He therefore ordered that all the windows be closed. He adorned the Lord with the jewellery that had been made and then, earnestly seeking darshan of the Lord’s dance, he sang the following verse:
Shambu, will it be demeaning for You
if You dance once more?
Will that [dance] witnessed by all the celestials
be likewise seen by me?
And could it ever grow weary,
that foot dancing to the rhythm‘ ti-t-ti’
which delighted victorious Patanjali
and the fierce tiger-footed Vyaghrapada too?
To understand the significance of this and subsequent lines, it is necessary to digress a little into the background and traditions surrounding the ananda tandava, the dance of bliss that Lord Nataraja performs in Chidambaram.
The story begins, according to the Koyil Puranam, the sthala puranam of Chidambaram, in the forests of Daruka. In that place there was a large multitude of rishis, all following the ritualistic practices of Karma Mimamsa. Siva went there to confront them, accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful woman. Siva initially caused the rishis to have a violent quarrel among themselves, but later their anger was directed against Siva, whom they attempted to destroy by means of magical incantations. They created a fierce tiger out of a sacrificial fire and made it attack Siva. Unperturbed and still smiling, he caught hold of it and with the nail of his little finger he stripped off its skin and wrapped it around himself like a silk cloth. Undiscouraged by this failure, the sages renewed their offerings and produced an enormous serpent that Siva seized and wrapped round his neck like a garland. Then he began to dance. However, the rishis had not exhausted their tricks. They created a malignant dwarf, Muyalakan, who rushed towards Siva with the intention of attacking him. Siva touched him with the tip of his foot and fractured his spine, leaving him writhing on the ground. Siva then resumed his dance, which was witnessed or accompanied by several of the gods and the rishis.
The myths and legends of Chidambaram state that Siva was compelled to continue his dance at Chidambaram, rather than in the Daruka forest, because he could see that the original site could not sustain the powerful energies of the dance. Invoking a yogic parallel, he identified the snaking ida and pingala currents in the subtle body with geographical locations north and south of Chidambaram, and then said that the central channel [natuvinadi] passed directly through Tillai, making it the centre of the world and the site of the original cosmic lingam.
It is through this analogy that Chidambaram, according to local tradition, became the centre of the cosmos, the axis mundi around which all the rest of the universe rotates. The dance is so powerful, only the true centre, the heart of the spiritual and material universe, can support and sustain it. According to this tradition, Chidambaram becomes the world centre on the physical plane; on the spiritual plane, the central shrine becomes the Heart-lotus, the still centre out of which emerges the primal dance of creation in the form of Siva’s dance of bliss.
It needs to be stressed, in the light of what follows in Guru Namasivaya’s story, just how inaccessible the dance is to ordinary eyes. The Suta Samhita (8, 9, 47) declares that the dance is beyond the vision of even the greatest of sages and adds that only Siva’s consort is naturally able to witness the dancing movements of the Lord. Elsewhere the Suta Samhita (3, 4, 6) states:
Devi in her great mercy witnesses what is impossible for others to see. Like the mother who partakes of the medicine that the baby cannot directly taste, though through the mother would benefit by it, she gazes and passes on the benefit of the vision to the children, her devotees.
How then did the sages and gods get to see the dance? In the Daruka forest it was Siva himself who graciously granted divine sight to the assembled gods and rishis so that they could watch him dance. Without that grace, even they would not have been able to see him.
In addition to Devi, known as Sivakami in Chidambaram, there are two sages who have been granted the boon of being able to witness Lord Nataraja’s dance: Patanjali, who is the incarnation of the cosmic serpent Adiseshan, and Vyaghrapada, the father of the boy Upamanyu for whom Siva created the ocean of milk. Patanjali and Vyaghrapada were worshipping the original lingam at Chidambaram with such devotion that Siva appeared before them and said that he would grant them a boon. They both asked to be eternal witnesses to his dance of bliss at Chidambaram, a request that Siva granted.
Patanjali and Vyaghrapada are alluded to in the song, composed by Guru Namasivaya in which he was attempting to persuade Lord Nataraja to begin his dance. Vyaghrapada, whose name means ‘tiger-footed,’ was given tiger’s feet by Siva so that he could climb bilva trees to collect their leaves for ceremonial worship.
Guru Namasivaya continued his song to Lord Nataraja, appealing to Him to manifest His dance in the temple:
Supreme Godhead! Divine Lord of Chidambaram!
You who perform Your divine dance in Tillai’s Hall
as the multitude sing hymns of praise and adoration,
and Tumburu and Narada [celestial musicians] intone a heavenly melody,
as Vishnu slings a drum upon his hip
and raps out a thunderous rhythm,
and Gauri, Lady Ambika herself,
strikes Her bright celestial cymbals
to mark the time in even measure!
Will the day ever come
when my eyes will rejoice to see in all its perfection
that golden foot pressing down [on Muyalakan],
that upraised lotus foot,
the waist on which shines
the fierce tiger’s noble pelt,
the navel’s whorl,
the lustre of white ash on the torso,
those four-fold golden shoulders,
each as great as the elevated and benevolent golden Meru,
that blackened throat, that face, that holy head?
When Guru Namasivaya praised him in this way, Lord Nataraja started dancing. Everyone present fell down, overcome by awe, prostrated, and remained motionless, face down.
After a long time had passed, three of the three thousand priests raised their heads and said, ‘The dance has been going on for a long time. Guru Namasivaya, you who are orchestrating the dance, and You, Lord of Tillai, who dance without, in reality, moving at all – your greatness cannot be perceived unless You stop the dance!’
Guru Namasivaya replied, enigmatically, ‘Am I the one who is asking for the dance? Am I the one who is asking for it to stop?’
‘The one who is keeping time,’ they all said, ‘is the one who should stop first.’
Guru Namasivaya had been beating out the rhythm of the dance. He ignored their request and went on singing to the dancing Nataraja:
If Your dance goes on and on for all eternity,
holy dancer of Tillai’s Hall,
our creator and daily benefactor,
will not Your upraised foot experience pain,
and will not the other foot that crushes evil Muyalakan grow weary?
Muyalakan is the malignant dwarf who was created by the rishis to attack Siva in the Daruka forest. Siva broke his back with his toe. In all iconographical representations of the ananda tandava Muyalakan is depicted under Nataraja’s right foot. The dwarf symbolises ignorance, so when Nataraja repeatedly stamps on his body during the dance, he is eradicating the ignorance that separates one from God. Muyalakan is a Tamil name. In Sanskrit the dwarf is known as Apasmara, which means ‘an epileptic’. Ignorance, in an epileptic fit of madness, tries to assail God, but is immediately broken and destroyed.
In response to this new verse, the dancing became even more intense. The three thousand priests, still wanting the awesome dance to stop, tried a different approach.
‘Guru Namasivaya is singing the praises of Siva,’ they said, ‘and Siva is obeying him. Let us sing in praise of Guru Namasivaya and see if he will accept our request to stop the dance.’
Countless thousands of verses he has sung
to the presence of Tillai’s Lord,
who greatly delights in the food chewed and tasted by the hunter, [Kannappa],
who destroys Kama’s body
and who sports eternally with Kali.
It was on hearing that holy song of Guru Namasivaya
that the Lord was deeply pleased
and raised His ankleted foot to dance.
The change of tactics worked. Guru Namasivaya responded by composing a new verse that requested Siva to stop his dance. The words at the end of the first and second lines are phonic representations of the rhythms that Guru Namasivaya initiated and Siva followed.
To my beat of nagu-tatta-taatati
Your silambu and feet dance tagutita….
Lord, dancing in the Golden Hall!
Your divine dance is enough. [Please stop.]
At the conclusion of this final verse Siva stopped His dance and disappeared.
The priests were so impressed by Guru Namasivaya’s ability to command God himself to dance, they vowed to each other that after his death they would worship the lingam over his samadhi as if it were Siva himself.
The main narrative of Guru Namasivaya’s life ends at this point. It seems likely, though, that he travelled to other parts of India. Earlier in this account he tells Siva, ‘I travel about a lot to places like Kasi and Rameswaram’. No record of these travels has survived except one trip to Madurai that is mentioned in the Pulavar Puranam, ‘Guru Namasivaya Sarukkam’, v. 10. While he was there, he was unable to obtain any food, so he went to the Meenakshi Temple and sang this song:
Listen, Mother Ankayarkanni,
whose eyes are like blue water lilies,
know that time passes but words remain.
For those who are very hungry, it passes.
For those who eat rice mixed with milk, it also passes.
‘Ankayarkanni’ means ‘one possessing beautiful carp-like eyes’ It is one of the Tamil names of the consort of Siva in the Meenakshi Temple. Mother Ankayarkanni appeared before Guru Namasivaya in the form of a brahmin woman, gave him food and then instantly vanished.
There is no indications that he ever returned to Arunachala to reunite with Guhai Namasivaya, but he mentioned his Guru, and the gratitude he felt towards him, in several of his later verses that were composed in Chidambaram:
Lord of Chidambaram,
You have the power to bestow grace
by appearing along with [your consort], the One
whose words are sweet as sugar syrup.
You who brought me, a mere dog, under Your Lordship,
coming and manifesting as my Guru Om Namasivaya
of bliss-abounding Sonagiri.
Lord of Chidambaram!
Om Namasivaya Guru of Arunai
is there to provide me succour.
Even if the fierce emissaries of Yama come,
I will not be frightened at their sight.
Henceforth in this world
I will not resort to any other God.
Lord of Chidambaram!
My Father who bestowed His compassion
by becoming the five-syllabled One
in the cave on Arunagiri,
offering through grace His lotus feet as a refuge.
In this earth You came to transform me into
the unique reality. (Chidambara Venba, vv. 83, 86, 94)
The text that is the source of most of the material in this account merely states that after performing many more holy works Namasivaya finally passed away at Tirupperundurai. This was the area within Chidambaram where Siva wrote the Tiruvachakam for Manikkavachagar. Its name derives from the town where Siva and Manikkavachagar first met. Guru Namasivaya’s samadhi is now located there.
There is a verse that gives the exact timing of his death. It is based on a Tamil calendar that uses a sixty-year cycle. The conjunction described there could refer to a day in AD 1577, 1637, or 1697. The other datable events in Guru Namasivaya’s life indicate that 1637 is the most probable date.
There is one other tangible record of his passing. A devotee, Chinna Nalla Nayan, had an epitaph carved on a stone slab. It reads:
We joyfully offer our worship to him who dwells in the city of the tiger [Chidambaram] in a hall of burnished gold, where Guru Namasivaya, disciple of the godly Guhai Namasivaya, who dwells on the slopes of Arunachala, dedicated himself to the service of the Lord. Praise be to the Lord!