Robert Butler, T. V. Venkatasubramanian and David Godman
Thayumanavar was a distinguished Tamil poet-saint who lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, from 1705 to 1742 AD. His devotional poetry was frequently cited by Bhagavan, with obvious approval, and many Ramanasramam books record fragments of his poems that Bhagavan either read out or quoted from memory. However, in most cases the full verse is not given in the ashram literature. In this article we are presenting the complete versions of most the verses that Bhagavan referred to, giving, wherever possible, the circumstances and context in which they were quoted. We do not propose to analyse Thayumanavar’s poetry or philosophy in any great detail; we merely wish to present, in a full form, those portions of his work that particularly appealed to Bhagavan.
Bhagavan was sometimes so emotionally moved when he read out verses by Thayumanavar, he would be unable to continue. Devaraja Mudaliar, who was responsible for recording many of Bhagavan’s references to Thayumanavar, wrote about this on two occasions:
I may here record that I have noticed on more than one occasion in the past how Bhagavan could not proceed with the reading of any deeply devotional portions of Tamil works such as Thevaram and Thayumanavar. ( Day by Day with Bhagavan, 12th December 1945, afternoon session.)
… when touching songs were recited or read out before him, or when he himself was reading out to us poems or passages from the lives or works of famous saints, he would be moved to tears and find it impossible to restrain them. He would be reading out and explaining some passage and when he came to a very moving part he would get so choked with emotion that he could not continue but would lay aside the book. To quote a few instances, such a thing happened when he was reading and explaining some incidents in Sundaramurti Nayanar’s life in connection with the Tiruchuzhi Mahatmyam, and also when he was reading out ‘Akarabuvanam-Chidambara Rahasyam’ in Thayumanavar’s works, and came to the twenty-fourth verse:
Conceiving you as everything from earth to space,
I shall record my thoughts on the large page of my mind,
and looking at that image ever and again, I shall cry out:
‘Lord of my life, will you not come?’
Repeatedly believing myself to be You,
I am unable to fix my attention on anything else.
Lamenting in this way, like one whose heart is wounded,
dissolving inwardly, so that tears pour down in floods,
uttering deep sighs, unaware even of my body, I stand transfixed.
His [Bhagavan’s] eyes were so filled with tears and his throat so choked with emotion [as he read these words] that he had to put aside the book and break off his discourse. ( My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, Devaraja Mudaliar, pp. 45-6, 1992 ed.)
The translation from the ‘Akarabuvanam-Chidambara Rahasyam’ verse was done by the joint authors of this article. We have made new translations of all the Thayumanavar verses that appear in this article and have inserted them at the appropriate places, that is, whenever Bhagavan quotes from them or refers to them.
Thayumanavar was brought up in the Tanjavur District of Tamil Nadu in the coastal town of Vedaranyam. His father, Kediliappa, came from an agricultural background but progressed from being a farmer to being the administrator of the local Vedapureeswarar Temple. He carried out this responsibility so well, he was subsequently offered the job of palace manager and royal advisor by Vijayaranga Chokkalinga Naicker, the reigning Prince of Tiruchirapalli. When Thayumanavar was born, his father named him after Thayumaneswarar, the presiding deity in the temple of Siragiri, which is nowadays known as the Tiruchirapalli Fort Temple.
Thayumanavar received a good education at court in which he ended up acquiring an outstanding knowledge of both Sanskrit and Tamil language and literature. He must also have made a good impression on the royal family because, when his father passed away, Thayumanavar, who was still in his teens, was considered qualified to take over his job. He subsequently managed the financial affairs of the kingdom and apparently fulfilled his duties with some distinction. However, while this was going on, his religious yearnings impelled him to look for a Guru who could help him to progress spiritually. Unfortunately, as many seekers have discovered before and since, such beings are hard to find. In later life Thayumanavar wrote about the qualifications that are necessary for one who is looking for a qualified Guru. Bhagavan once cited this verse, and endorsed its contents, in the following dialogue:
Question: What is satsang?
Bhagavan: Satsang means only Atma sang [association with the Self]. Only those who cannot practise that are to practise being in the company of realised beings or sadhus.
Question: When does one get the company of sadhus?
Bhagavan: The opportunity to be in the company of a Sadguru comes effortlessly to those who have performed worship of God, japa, tapas, pilgrimages etc for long periods in their previous births. There is a verse by Thayumanavar that points out the same thing:
For those who, in the prescribed manner,
have embarked upon the [pilgrim] path
of divine images, holy sites and holy tanks,
a Sadguru, too, will come to speak one unique word,
O Supreme of Supremes! ( ‘Paraparakkanni’, verse 156)
Only he who has done plenty of nishkamya punyas [austerities performed without any thought of a reward or consequence] in previous births will get abundant faith in the Guru. Having faith in the Guru’s words, such a man will follow the path and reach the goal of liberation. (Living by the Words of Bhagavan, 2nd ed., pp. 220-1.)
We can assume that Thayumanavar had the requisite qualifications since his search for a teacher ultimately led him to a man called Arul Nandi Sivachariar, who was also known as ‘Mauna Guru’. This teacher could trace his lineage back to the famous saint Tirumular, whose book, Tirumantiram, written well over a thousand years ago, became one of the canonical works of Saivism.