I have taken this poem from an unpublished collection of Tamil verses by Guhai Namasivaya that I found in the mid-1980s. Since they are all in the
venba metre, they may be some of the verses that Guhai Namasivaya was composing every day as an offering to Arunachala. The title translates as
A Garland for Arunagiri. Arunagiri, meaning 'Red Mountain', is one of the Tamil names of Arunachala.
In composing this garland in praise of Mount Arunagiri
(1) The principal puranic story about Arunachala features a dispute between Brahma and Vishnu over which of them is the greater. Siva witnessed their dispute and decided to teach them a lesson in humility. He appeared before them in the form of an infinitely long column of light (some versions say fire) and announced that whichever of the two could find the end of this column could call himself the greater. Vishnu took the form of a boar and burrowed downwards to find the bottom end, while Brahma took the form of a swan and flew upward in search of the top. Neither extremity was found even though the two Gods spent thousands of years trying. Both returned unsuccessful, finally conceding that Siva was greater than either of them. Vishnu then requested Siva to manifest in a form that was less dazzling to the eyes so that devotees through the ages could have
darshan of his form. Siva obliged by condensing himself into the form of Arunachala. Thus, for devotees of Arunachala, the mountain is not merely a symbol of Siva or the place where he resides, it is Siva himself, manifesting in a physical form
(2) This is the benedictory verse. So, following poetic tradition, Guhai Namasivaya invokes the blessings of the elephant-headed God, Ganapati, the deity of auspicious beginnings.
Yama is the Hindu god of death. The reference to trampling him comes from the story of Markandeya.
Mrikanda, Markandeya's father had prayed to Siva to get a son. Siva appeared before him and said,
'Do you desire to have a virtuous, wise and pious son who will only live to be sixteen, or a dull-witted, evil-natured son who will live for a long time.'
Mrikanda opted for the short-lived son, who turned out to be a child-sage. On the day of his appointed death, Yama came to collect him. Markandeya cried out to Siva for help and embraced the idol of Siva that he usually meditated on. Yama threw his rope and lassooed the idol as well as Markandeya. This angered Siva, who came roaring down from the heavens, after which he killed Yama with a single blow of his foot. Siva then gave Markandeya a boon that he could be sixteen forever, and thus avoid death, and he also restored Yama's life.
Kama, the God of love, was sent to Siva by Brahma in an attempt to make Siva fall in love with Parvati and marry her. Brahma had foreseen that only an offspring of the two could defeat a demon called Taraka who was threatening the gods. When Kama aimed an arrow of love at Siva's heart, Siva, who was in
samadhi, opened his third eye, which had been focused inside, and burned Kama to ashes with a single look. Siva eventually brought into being Subramania, without any outside intervention, it was he who finally conquered and destroyed Taraka.
(4) In the Mahabharata and some of the
Puranas Brahma is born form a lotus that sprang from the navel of Vishnu. Mal is one of the Tamil names of Vishnu.
(5) This is the sanchita karma, the accumulated
karma of former births that still remains to be experienced.
(6) Saiva Siddhanta postulates three fundamental entities
(Pati), the aggregate of all the souls in the world (pasu) and pasa, that which binds the soul to worldliness.
Pasa is also known as malam or impurity and it has three components: (1)
Anava - ignorance or egotism that is attached to the soul (2) Maya
- the ever-changing matter which makes up manifestation, or the seed from which it arises (3)
Karma - the actions that the soul engages in via the body and the mind. These bring about retributive consequences for the performer of those acts: pleasant consequences for the good activities, and unpleasant for the bad.
(7) In Saiva Siddhanta the Lord is called
Pati. The word for the totality of souls which he looks after is pasu. Literally, this means
'cattle'. Guhai Namasivaya is saying here that full responsibility for the herd of souls lies with Siva, and not with the individual people.
(8) Na, Ma, Si, Va, and Ya, which together comprise
Nama Sivaya, which means 'Obeisance to Siva'. This is the most sacred and powerful mantra for
(9) A somewhat vague reference. I would guess it refers to Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.
(10) Among the gods, Brahma's principal function is the creation of the world.
(11) Siva once cut off one of Brahma's five heads to punish him for the arrogance of believing that he was the supreme deity. Brahma then cursed him, saying that he would always have to beg for his food, using the skull as a begging bowl. This made Siva very angry, so he went on the rampage, killing thousands of
devas in the process. At one point Surya, the sun god, confronted him and tried to make him stop. Siva hit him in the face and knocked out all his teeth. When Siva's anger had subsided, he restored them all.
(12) The two normal eyes of Siva represent the sun and the moon. The third, in the centre of the forehead, symbolises fire. The eyes together represent the three sources of light that illumine the earth, space and the sky. Through his three eyes Siva can see past, present and future, an accomplishment which, as Guhai Namasivaya points out, enables him to transcend time. The central eye is the eye of higher perception. Normally it is directed inwards, but when it is turned outwards, it burns all that appears before it.
(13) The devas and the asuras were once churning the ocean of milk, hoping to get from it
amrita, the elixir of immortality. At one point a burning mass of poison came out, emanating poisonous fumes. When Brahma requested Siva to help, he responded by swallowing the poison. Though the poison did not harm him, it left a blue mark on his throat. From that time on, one of his names has been Nilakantha, meaning
When poets address Arunachala Siva, they are not merely conceiving of him in the limited role of the God who appeared there as a consequence of the Brahma-Vishnu dispute. He is, for them, the same Siva who swallowed the poison and who starred in countless other mythic encounters.
(14) Bhagavan was probably commenting on this verse in
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 447: 'Sri Bhagavan said that a saint Namah Sivaya who was formerly living in Arunachala must have undergone considerable difficulties. For he has sung a song saying,
''God proves the devotee by means of severe ordeals. A washerman beats the cloth on a slab, not to tear it, but only to remove the dirt.'''
(15) Siva wears as a diadem on his head the crescent of the fifth-day moon. According to
Sri Siva Tattva, a Saiva Siddhanta text, 'The moon is soma, the sacrificial offering. Placed near the fiery third eye, the crescent moon shows the power of creation coexistent with that of destruction.'
(16) Sacred ash (vibhuti) is revered in all schools of Saivism. In Virasaivism, the tradition in which Guhai Namasivaya was brought up, eight
varanas, or aids to spiritual life, are spoken of. Several of them are alluded to in this and other verses. The
varanas are: (1) obedience to a qualified Guru (2) worship of the Lingam (3) reverence for the
jangama, the Virasaiva monks (4) the wearing of rudraksha beads (5) the use of
vibhuti (6) taking prasad from the Guru (7) purification through water that has washed the Guru's feet (8) repetition of the sacred five syllables:
(17) One of Vishnu's avataras was as Narasimha, a half-man and half-lion form. Narasimha disembowelled the demon Hiranyakasipu, who had harassed the gods. After the demon had been killed, Narasimha was still full of anger and threatened to annihilate the whole universe. Siva appeared in the form of Simbul (in Sanskrit he is known as Sarabha), an eight-legged flying creature. This
'bird' dug its claws into Narasimha, lifted him off the ground and killed him. Siva subsequently wore the skin of Narasimha as an item of clothing.
(18) This is a play on the Tamil word naa, which can means a tongue, the pointer on a pair of scales and the clapper in a bell.
(19) I don't know the reference here. Though Vishnu and Siva are often portrayed as competing gods, they do not, so far as I am aware, ever use their weapons on each other.
(20) The six major cults of Hinduism (shanmata), codified and sanctioned by Adi Sankaracharya are the worship of (1) Siva (2) Vishnu (3) Devi or Sakti (4) Ganapati (5) Kumara (6) Surya, the sun.
Robert Butler learned classical Tamil during a stay at Ramanasramam in the 1980s. He is currently
working on translations of Kuruntogai verses, Tamil love poetry written about 2,000 years ago. Samples of his work can be found at: