Tuesday, 10 July, 2007

Saint Appar

APPAR WAS BORN in a village called Tiruvamur in the Thirumunaipadi region of a Vellala family of Saivaites. His father’s name was Pugazhanar and mother’s name was Madiniyar. His parents named him Marul Neekkiyar. He had only one sister by name Tilakavati. As he grew up he became proficient in all branches of knowledge. When Tilakavati was 12 years of age, the parents decided to give her in marriage to a commander in the king’s army. Just then there was a war and that commander went away saying he would marry her on his return. In the meantime Pugazhanar passed away and his wife Madiniyar committed Sati. The brother and sister were left alone. They awaited the return of the commander, but after some time they heard that the commander had died in the war. Tilakavati wanted to commit Sati as her parents had decided to give her away in marriage to that commander and she felt that her body was therefore his. Marul Neekkiyar with great grief, fell at the feet of his sister and told her that he looked up to her as his father and mother, and if she insisted on dying on the funeral pyre, he would also commit suicide. As she was anxious that her brother should live and prosper, she gave up her idea of committing Sati. She however did not marry but remained at home absorbed in the service of the Siva temple and in her own tapas (austerity).

Marul Neekkiyar realised that material wealth was transitory. Whatever money, gold and other valuables he had, he gave away, became a sannyasi, left home and in his wanderings reached Patalipuram (Tiruppadiripuliyur, i.e. Cuddalore). The most important place at that time was the Samana Mutt. As fate would have it, he went there and joined the Samana cult (a Jain cult), was given the title of Darmasena, and became the Head of the Mutt, the Purohit of the Raja and the Poet Laureate of the kingdom. He therefore stayed on there.

Thirugnana Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikavasagar

Tilakavathi, who was staying at her native place, heard this news and felt sad. She went to their family deity, Veerasthaneswara, on the banks of the river Gedila and prayed to God several times to save her brother from following the ways of the heretics. One day Parameswara appeared to her in a dream and said, “O Tapaswini, you can now give up your mental agony. In his last birth, your brother was a sannyasi, but did not perform tapas properly. There was a flaw in his tapas. As a result of that, he has now joined that heretic (Pashanda) cult. I shall now save him by making him suffer from stomach ache. Give up your grief and relax.”

Immediately thereafter, Dharmasena had a violent stomach ache. Several people in that Mutt who were well versed in mantras and tantras tried their best to cure him but could not succeed and so gave up all hopes. Dharmasena could not bear the agony any longer. He then remembered his sister. Hoping she might be of some help, he sent a man to fetch her. She refused to give up her own dharma and go to the Samana Mutt. On hearing that, Dharmasena regretted his having given up his own dharma, namely Saivism, and without the knowledge of other people in the Mutt, left the Mutt at night, with two servants for his native place. When he tapped at the door and called his sister, she recognised his voice and opened the door. He fell at her feet and requested her to forgive him. She received him with open arms and overjoyed at the kindness of Parameswara, and after giving him holy ash, taught her brother the Panchakshari Mantra. He smeared the holy ash all over his body and repeated the mantra.

Tilakavati took her brother to the temple of Veerasthaneswara. When he prostrated and got up, Marul Neekkiyar began composing songs in Tamil in praise of Siva. The first of the Ten Verses (Padikam) begins with ‘Kootrayinavaru’. His stomach ache ceased immediately. That is why there is a belief that whoever recites these songs gets relief from all illness.

After that, he took up Sannyasa and went on a pilgrimage singing his Padikams (containing 10 verses each). In due course he reached Chidambaram. After worshipping Nataraja there, and singing the Padikams, he went with his followers to nearby Sirkali. He had heard that Sambandar had become a saint by drinking the milk of the mother of the universe, Parvati, when he was a little child. Hearing that he was coming, Sambandar with his followers went out to meet him. As soon as they met, Marul Neekkiyar fell at the feet of Sambandar. The latter lifted him up with his hands with great affection, and as a show of respect, called him ‘Appah’. Appar immediately claimed that he was the Dasan (servant) of Sambandar. From that time onwards, Marul Neekkiyar came to be known as Appar.

Subsequently both of them went together to the temple of Brahmapureeswara. Sambandar then asked Appar to worship the Lord, which Appar did with his Padikams. After that, they went together to several temples and sang Padikams in praise of the Lord. You have already heard of Vedaranyam and the sovereigns. There are several other stories like that. After his contact with Appar, Sambandar went to Patalipuram, defeated the people of Samana Mutt by arguments and established Saivism. They always used to be together.

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