SAINT JNANA SAMBANDAR.
"Long live the Brahmins, Gods, and kins,
May rain pour down and monarch fare,
Deep sink all ill, ring everywhere
But Siva's name, and cease all pine."
"He who believing that the search for truth can never be offensive to the God of truth, pursues his way with an unswerving energy, may not unreasonably hope that he may assist others in their struggle towards the light, and may in some small degree contribute to that consummation when the professed belief shall have been adjusted to the requirements of the age, when the old tyranny shall have been broken, and the anarchy of transition shall have passed away." – W. E. H. Lecky.
SAINT JNANA SAMBANDHAR.
'Whom the Gods love die young' was said of yore. It was too true of St. Jnana Sambandar; for he had hardly turned sixteen when he had a translation to the abode of bliss. In the third year of his birth he began to lisp in numbers, for the numbers came, and the highly imaginative and poetic mind of the fervid south gave the early precocity a mythic or mythological garb that the goddess Parvati fed the babe with her milk or divine wisdom. Thence-forward he came to be known as the son of God, and the halo of divinity encircled him. His pious father, Siva-padha-virudh-aiyar felt the divinity of his blessed son and return home with him. The child-prodigy, in the very brief span of his life, made four holy journeys to different shrines in the peninsula, of which the third was the longest and most eventful and wrought many a miracle in each, the Divinity punctuating every act of his with its power and grace, its justice and mercy.
At Tirukkolakka which is less than a Sabbath day's trip from Shiyali the wisdom child was dowered with a pair of golden cymbals inscribed with the sacred pentagram, symbolic of the divine gift of melodious song to him. The Brahmin folk of Tirunanepalli, the home of Baghavatiyar, the saint's mother, hearing of the divine favors bestowed on the son of God, invited him to their village, 9 miles North East of the Mayavaram junction. Singing a hymn of his own in honor of the local deity, as it was his custom, he resumed his pilgrimage seated on the fond shoulders of his affectionate author, and returned home after visiting seven shrines ending with the one at Tiruk-kurukavur. At Shiyali there was waiting for him Tiru Nilakanta Yalpanar, a famous lutist, accompanied by Viraliyar-a celebrated girl-singer. The two visitors were hospitably entertained by the saint, and when the latter listened to their performances he was so moved by them that he graciously accorded to Nilakanta the favor of his company whether so ever he went. Thus the composer and the lutist were together, and the latter followed the former setting his divine words to music, as the shadow the substance.
Prompted by his desire to pay homage and worship to the God at Chidambaram he set out on his second pilgrimage in company with the lutist and attended by a large retinue of admires and disciples. At the request of Tiru-Nilakanta, the saint paid a visit to Tiru-yerukkatthamputhur, and composed a hymn in praise of the God of Nilakantan's hamlet. Passing through Tiru-muthukunram, Tunganaimatam, and Tiru-Nelvoil, he halted at Marampadi at sunset and lodged there for the night when he saw a vision of the deity of Tiru Arathurai announcing the gift of a pearl-white palanquin, a pearl-white fan, and a pearl-white flageolet by the Brahmins of the village. These precious gifts were most opportune and afforded immense relief to the saint's loving father. Henceforward the saint's journey was made in the palanquin with the customary paraphernalia, and after traversing Tiru Nel-Vennai, Tirup-palavur, Vijayamangai, Vaika, and Purambayam, he approached Cheyngalur, the birth place of Chandeswara Nayanar, and alighted from the palanquin and went on foot to the shrine, to do honor to the far-famed canonized saint. His second pilgrimage closed with his worship at Tiru Karuppariyalur, and when he was at Shiyali once more, his parents were most anxious that the child saint should wear the holy thread, and his voice was echoed by the chorus of the Brahmins of the village. The investiture was over, and the saint sang the virtues of the sacred pentagram in a memorable pathigam. At this time the veteran singer of melting strains who prided himself on being a Servant of God, the Lord of the Tongue, proceeded to Shiyali, where the child prodigy and the melodious hymnist paid mutual adoration. The former addressed the latter as Father, - a very significant form of address, and the saint thenceforth bore the name of St. Appar. This event points a moral to the narrow clan-lovers of modern times, and teaches them that love, genuine love, transcend, the conventions of caste and custom. After a brief sojourn, Saint Appar bade farewell to the 'marvelous boy' and exchanged parting embraces with him at Tirukkolakka.
Shortly afterwards his third and most eventful missionary journey commenced. Going from shrine to shrine on the north bank of the Cauvery and hymning in each of them, he reached Tiru Pachil Achramam where he effected a miraculous cure on the princes of Kolli-Malavan afflicted with a dangerous palsy. Resuming his pilgrimage of grace, he crossed the Cauvery and visited the shrines on its southern bank on the Kongu country. When he was at Tiru-Kodimatam the burning frost set in and his retinue fell ill. Fever was rampant in the whole village and all the afflicted turned to him for redress. The saint sang the most touching hymn called Tiru-Nilakanta-pathigam, and thanks to the immediate response of the Holy Being, all the affected got up fresh and vigorous as after a sleep and from a dream. Traversing many other places of sacred resort, he arrived at Karur, situated on the border land between the Kongu and Chola countries. In the province of Chola he sang hymns in twenty five shrines and passed on to Tiru-chatthe-Matam, when the sun was in a blaze and the midsummer was burning hot. The palanquin bearers and the retinue of disciples could not bear the heat and appealed to their master. The redress was instantaneous. A Siva demon appeared, spread his huge wings aloft, and carried a huge pearl-white umbrella which sheltered the holy followers from the scorching heat of the sun till they made for Patte-charam. Marching onward through fifteen more sacred places and arriving at Tiru-vavaduthurai, the boy-saint halted a few days there. At that time his father, a Brahmin of Brahmins, who was intent on performing the Vedic Sacrifice or Yaga, applied to his son for the wherewithal, and the son prayed to the local deity for compliance. A gold parrot embodying a thousand gold coins was seen on the pedestal of the temple, and it was said that the treasure would prove inexhaustible and go to defray all the expenses of the sacrifice. The father took it and went homeward while the marvelous boy marched on. In his holy peregrinations he sang hymns and the hymn composed at Dharmapuram the place of nativity of the lutist' s mother, - composed at the request of the Yalpanar, - was so hard to be set to music that it came to be known as Lute-Breaker or Yal muri. It is the only hymn in that pan in all the Devaram and to the great skill of the metrist. The skilled lutist could not play the tune and was about to break the lute in his despair. The boy-saint hastened to spare it and said that a divinely inspired song could not be easily set to mortal music. After this great feat, the saint and his followers were received with great éclat at Satthamangai by Saint Tiru-Nilla-Nakkar, his hospitable home. After partaking of the Saint's hospitality, St. Jnanasambandar visited the local temple and left for Veloor east. At this place he was met by the Saint Tirutthondar and invited to Tiru-Chengattam-kudi. At Tiru-Marugalur another super-natural cure was effected in a most marvelous manner. In the mantapam of the local temple a virgin was seen crying most woefully at the death by cobra-bite of her merchant-ravisher. Our precocious Saint took pity on the agonized lady and sang a hymn. The result was that the dead man woke up and the Saint made the lovers man and wife. After visiting the home of Siruthoondar again, he went to Tiru-pugalur at the invitation of Saint Muruganar.
Tiruppugalur is remarkable as the trysting place of the saints. St. Appar, St. Nila Nakkar, St. Siru Thonder, St. Jnanasambandar and St. Murugar spent a few days together and each thought that it was the most happy period of his life. Leaving that place of holy Junction the Saints Appar and Jnanasambandar met at Tiru-Ambar and offered their prayers to Siva in the temple built and dedicated to him by the king Kochengan-chola. Here we come upon a temple with a history of its own, and the pathigam composed in honor of it sings the praises of its magnanimous author. The reign of the Red-eyed Chola King will furnish, on proper investigation, a landmark in the history of Tamilakam and may serve to fix the dates of temple-structure in South India. Both the saints were received at Tiruk-kadavur by their contemporary Kungelia Kalaya Nayanar and cordially entertained by him in his house. Both travelled together to Akkur, Meychur Pambur, and Veelimilalai. Here in the last mentioned locality the Brahmins of Shiyali waited upon the boy-saint and prayed for his homeward journey. The deputation was given a splendid reception by the local Brahmins, but did not succeed in its mission. The deputation returned home. The two saints were happy in each other's society at Veelimilalai, when there fell upon the land a severe famine. The son and the servant of God wanted money for their maintenance, and the unfailing exchequer of Siva gave each of them a gold coin every day till there was plenty in the land once more. Each saint took his gold coin, wherewith he sumptuously led his own devotees and adherents. According to the legend the gold coin intended for Jnanasambandar fetched less than that for St. Appar, and by this it was probably meant to convey that service loomed larger in the eyes of God than kinship. The rains fell and the dearth rolled away. The saints left this memorable scene of the manifestation of divine grace to them and visited thirteen sacred shrines together before they reached Vedaranyam. This was probably a great seat of Vedic learning and had suffered an eclipse during the havoc made by the heretical rulers. The Siva temple seems to have been closed for fear of the tyrants, and the inhabitants of the place seem to have been much concerned about it. They evidently longed for a time when the sable cloud should have a silver lining. The two saints must have had a hard time of it there (in their controversies with their opponents) before they asserted and established the greater excellence and worth of their vedic knowledge. Their success in the ordeal might have led to the opening of the temple and to the performance of the puja, not to speak of the spread and diffusion of the old learning and worship. This is the only interpretation we are able to make of the miracle of the temple door being opened and shut for the first time after a long period of its closure. Literally, the feat of opening a door, which has been shut up for a long time, is more trying and difficult than closing it when once opened. The task of opening it fell to the lot of the aged St. Appar while St. Jnanasambandar easily closed it. Very likely the veteran had to face the ordeal more than the stripling. The opening of the door of knowledge, held to be secret or close preserve for the Brahmins, to the other classes was a heroic feat on the part of the Vellala saint while the Brahmin prodigy, true to his inherited tendencies, wished to have it the exclusive possession of his own clansmen. Viewed in any way the miracle at Tirumaraikadu, the name for which Vedaranyam is the Sanskrit equivalent, is highly significant even though it were divested of its miraculous element. Further, it was at Tirumarai kadu that Jnanasambandar received the emissaries of the Queen Mangayarkarasi and her prime minister Kulachirai to put a stop to the rapid progress of Jainism in the Pandiya country. St. Appar, who had suffered immensely at the hands of these heretics, advised his younger contemporary not to make the venture, and added that his stars were not favorable at the time. These arguments from experience and astrology did not bear sway with the building youth bent on annihilating heresy. Yet out of love for the boy saint, St. Appar offered to accompany him, and the enthusiastic young saint took leave of the anxious St. Appar assuring him that the Lord would stand by his side. Thus they parted again.
St. Jnanasambandar set out on his journey to the south. On his way to Madura, he visited about ten shrines and sang hymns. At Madura the Saint had a magnificent reception, and the Queen and the Prime-minister left no stone unturned to make it as grand as possible. The Jains had an anxious time since the advent of the orthodox saint. They induced the Pandiya to arrest his progress. As anticipated by St. Appar they set fire to the mantapam where the saint of miracles had quartered. The outcome of it was that the Pandiyan King had something like typhoid fever and his whole body was abnormally hot. Orthodoxy and heterodoxy met, challenged each other, and tried the efficacy of their mantrams on the patient.
"If Buddha (Arha) be thy god,
God to his temple, invocate his aid
With solemnest devotion, spread before him
I low highly it concerns his glory now
To frustrate and dissolve these magic spells,
Which I to be the power of Aryan God
Avow, and challenge Buddha (Arha) to the test,
Offering to combat thee, his champion bold.
With the utmost of his godhead seconded;
Then thou shalt see, or rather to thy sorrow
Soon feel, whose God is strongest, thine or mine."
Singing the sacred hymn of the Holy Ashes Orthodoxy won the day, but heterodoxy called for two further trials. By the miracles of the water and the fire too the Jains were made to bite the dust, and eight thousands of them were pilloried by the king according to their vow. The hunch backed Pandyan was cured of his deformity and turned a true worshipper of Siva once again. The joy of the Queen and Kulachiraiyar knew no bounds at the triumph of Saivaism and at the reconversion of their sovereign. Having established the worship of Siva beyond all doubt, St. Jnanasambandar visited Rameswaram and Courtalam among other holy places and composed pathigams. Tinnevelly had its own share, and the hymn is popular, being sung by the Othuwars and Gurukkals in temples and on festive occasions. On his way back to the Chola country. Kulachiraiyar gave the saint a fitting reception at Manalmelkudi, his native village. Crossing the borders of the Pandiya country, he reached the bank of the Mullivoi and the ferrymen were unequal to the washing flood. After offering his prayers to the god of Tiru-kollamputhur, at a distance of five miles from the Koradacheri station on the Tanjore – Negapatam branch of the South Indian Railway, the Saint rowed across the flood and resumed his journey homeward. At Bodhimangai, a Buddhist centre, the Saint's followers made such an uproar with their conches and their hallelujahs that Buddha Nandi came out with his congregation to intercept their triumphant march. The miracle of thunder and lightning was enacted and the Buddhist rival was dashed to the ground, his head cloven in twain. The Buddhist embraced Saivaism. This added to the glory of the boy saint, and the latter, in his solicitude to meet St. Appar and report his victories over the heretics, hastened to Tiru-Punthuruthi, eight miles north-west of Tanjore. Here the two saints lived together for a time, each retaining his own triumphal progress; and when St. Appar marched southward to the shrines in the Pandiya country, St. Jnanasambandar crossed the Cauvery and arrived at Shiyali after paying the homage of his hymns to God in each sacred shrine on the way.
After some stay at Shiyali the boy saint longed to visit the shrines already honoured by St. Appar in Thondinadu and began his fourth pilgrimage. From Chidambaram he proceeded northward till he halted at Tiru-Annamalai where he sang hymns, and at Titu-othur about fifteen miles from Conjeevaram, where the Jains were found in large numbers, the Saint made the barren Palmyra's yield fruits. At this miracle the local Jain population turned Saivites at once and thereby augmented the glory of the Saiva faith. Passing this Thiru Alamkadu, immortalised in song by the fervour of Karaikkal Ammai's devotion, he climbed the hill of Kalahasti and poured forth his verse in praise of St. Kannappa. Thence he left for Tiru Ottiyur and after a short sojourn there, went to Mylapore, where an enthusiastic admirer of the saint, a merchant prince by name Siva Nesar, awaited his arrival with an urn of his only daughter's bones and ashes to be immediately transformed into Pum-pavai in the flesh. This was a miracle of miracles and dazzled the assemblage of all creeds and religions that witnessed the miraculous performance. The hymn of Muttitapunnai every native of Mylapore knows by heart, as it led to the reincarnation of the cobra-bitten Virgin. Pum-pavai having been dedicated by her father to St. Jnana Sambandar, she could not be given in marriage to anybody else, and as by the miracle the saint assumed the role of a second father, she had to be relegated to a nunnery. The saint the left Mylapore and wended his way to Chidambaram where he stayed, worshipping the deity every day and paying his tributary verses to his heart's content. The Brahmins of Shiyali headed by the Saint's father invited him back to his birth place, and at Shiyali he passed his days in the company of his disciples. His father proposed wedded life for him and arranged for the marriage with the daughter of Nambiandar, Nambi of Tiru Nallur. On the bridal day, when the solemnisation was over, all those assembled to honour the occasion, together with the bride and bridegroom disappeared in the trailing clouds of the glory of Siva. Thus the life of the Saint ended as it began in a miracle.
Having recounted the story of the Saint, I may dwell very briefly on three points connected with it, on the excellence of his hymns, on the virtue of the miracles, and on the question of religious persecution. Firstly, I take up the excellence of his hymns. The extant hymns of St. Jnana Sambandar (Muttamilveeragar) number 384, of which 7 are general without reference to any locality, Shiyali claims 67 hymns under its duodenal name. Vihmilalai 15, Alavoi 8, Tiruvaiyar 5, and others on a descending scale. Each pathigam consists of 11 or 12 instead of 10 stanzas as the name signifies, and the last is always a benedictory one bearing the name and seal of the saint. A careful reader of the hymns will see that the 8th, 9th and 10th stanzas refer invariably to Siva's grace to the melodious Ravana in agony, to the par excellence of Siva over Brahma and Vishnu, and to the malediction of the heretic Buddhists and Jains respectively. In the first seven stanzas no definite arrangement of topics is discernible, and there seems to be ringing the changes on the nomenclature of Siva with special reference to the traditions and the scenery of the locality. All the hymns are said to contain the distilled essence of the Vedas, and what distinguishes them is their variety of pans or tunes, (sandamparavu Jnanasambandan). Of the twenty-four pans of the Devara hymns, our saint's hymns alone illustrate 22 of them, and none of the other Saivacharyas as exceeds or even equals him in their varieties and none of them ever attempted yal-muri. It is hardly to be seen in his hymns that philosophy and humanity that rise the sweet strains of St. Appar, while the militant spirit is much in evidence in them. Further, almost every hymn of the boy saint is instinct with the supremacy and welfare of his own clan unlike the hymns of St. Appar in which he makes no distinction between man and man or class and class, but applies the touchstone of sincere devotion to detect the pinchbeck and discriminate it from the true gold.
In the second place let me examine the value of the miracles achieved by St. Jnana Sambandar. About a dozen of them I have referred to in the course of the narrative of the saint's brief span of life. All of them imply the intervention of the supernatural. Whether a dangerous disease is cured or a cobra bitten person is restored to life or the visitation of famine is averted or a deformity is removed, or a long shut door is opened, or the Yaga demand is met or the flooded stream is crossed or heterodoxy is put down or a sterile Palmyra is made fruitful, or the bones and ashes are metamorphosed into a bashful virgin – in each of these cases the operator is God, the man of extraordinary sanctity is the supplicating medium and the hallowed mantra uttered by the suppliant serves to move the operator to work out what the saint prays for. All this was possible in an age of absolute credulity, in an atmosphere surcharged with the supernatural, in a region torpid and isolated, and among a people who had just emerged from barbarism and whose education was at its lowest ebb. In the middle ages when our saint lived they (the miracles) were frequent incitements to piety, stimulating the devotions of the languid and rewarding the patience of the fervent. But in this enlightened and ever advancing twentieth century no teacher of divine truth needs such a prop or crutch to establish it; in this age of free enquiry, in this scientific age when every apparently extraordinary phenomenon is made to pass through the crucible of searching reason, the educated do not, like the ignorant, resort to the supernatural as the simplest explanation of every difficulty, but try to solve it by discovering the law or the general principle underlying it. "All history shows that in exact proportion to the intellectual progress of nations, the accounts of miracles taking place among them become rarer and rarer until at last they entirely cease." On the progress of civilisation and the diffusion of knowledge depends the gradual cessation of credibility and gullibility. Classed with legerdemain tricks as the miracles are by the scientific men of the age, however offensive to the nostrils of the conservative orthodox man such a classification might be, they at present do not at all command admiration or worship, but they infallibly and invariably provoke enquiry in thinking minds with a view to find out a rational explanation therefore. It is no disparagement to the deity or to the godhead, but all honour to him, that the infinitesimal reason of man can unfold the eternal law governing the apparent freaks of nature. Wireless telegraphy have become fait accompli like the gramophone and cinematograph, the wonders of the age. Telepathy is attempted to be explained on some such principle. The phenomena of hypnotism and mesmerism are psychologically explained. Even the grave problem of human survival after death is tackled in right earnest. Who knows what else science cannot discover or invent? The clear light of reason dispels the illusion of talisman or the amulet, and the magical powers of the holy ashes and the rosary are displaced by their hygienic and medical virtues as purifiers and insulators. In these circumstances the miracle loses its value as miracle while it testifies to the sincere devotional spirit of its performer.
The third point is the question of religious persecution. St. Jnana Sambandar is known as the Hammer of the Buddhists and Jains. Why they were persecuted deserves passing notice. Both Buddhism and Jainism were the offspring of Brahminic bigotry and exclusiveness. The secrecy of the Vedas led to their rejection; the indulgence in animal sacrifices led to the pharisaic kindness even to fleas; the arrogance of high caste led to the prevalence of the feeling of fraternity; the extravagant insistence on the transmigration of souls led to the denial of the soul and the extinction of desire or Nirvana. The ethics of these religions reacted on their parent and, as it were toned down its arrogance and superciliousness. These are facts of history, and therefore stubborn. These two religions, which had their rise in Magadha, spread in the South with the ascendency of the Pallava sovereigns. When they began to decay internally and their best things were absorbed and assimilated by Hinduism, they fell, and Hinduism in its modified form reared its head. The boy saint and the veteran saint appeared at this favourable turn of the tide. To propagate religion by the sword was the peculiar privilege of Islamism; to do it by the intervention of the deity distinguished the nerveless Hinduism; to spread faith by conviction, by persuasion and argument was the way of the rationalistic Buddhism. In the dark ages persecution had a religious sanction; the service of the heretic was held a positive offence to the Deity; and heresy was punished with death and damnation. "If men believe with an intense and realising faith that their own view of a disputed question is true beyond all possibility of mistake, if they further believe that those who adopt other views will be doomed by the Almighty to an eternity of misery which, with some moral disposition but with a different belief, they would have escaped, these men will sooner or later persecute to the full extent of power. If you speak to them of the physical and mental suffering which persecution produces or of the sincerity and unselfish heroism of its victims, they will reply that such arguments rest altogether on the inadequacy of your realisation of the doctrine they believe." Under some influence like this did our Saints act, and callous were they therefore to the agonies of their victims. An open mind was none of theirs. My doxy is orthodoxy was the then prevailing temper of the religiously inclined. In the overthrow of Buddhism and Jainism argument was not the weapon of either combatant; both trusted to their magic and witchcraft for it. The Brahminic hatred was more pointed against Jainism than Buddhism, as the abusive epithets as demons, vultures etc., applied to the Jains in the tenth stanza of each hymn by our boy Saint would amply show; and it was not without reason. More than Buddhists, the Jains were great temple builders and cultivators of Tamil learning. The Jains were really great benefactors to the Tamil worlds. In the age of the Sangams and in subsequent times the work of the Jains in the several departments of Tamil literature was conspicuous. Give the devil his due is a proverbial saying. In the heat of his passion against heresy, he (Nannia Keethi Nalangol Kalvi Nan marrai Jnanasambandan) denied this merit of the Jains. (Andiportirinthariathodu Chentamil Payanarigila Andagar ketliyanalaen Thruvalavayaranirkavai) Passion is not the watch-word of the twentieth century inquirer; cool, dispassionate judgment is his. Toleration is born of love, sympathy and conviction. With the advance of reason the barriers of country, caste, creed and colour will dwindle into insignificance and catholicity will rule. That all men are equally free and brothers, is a fact realised only by the enlightened section of the civilized humanity. We will not brook to be called the unenlightened and uncivilized. So long as we wish to carry that dignity about us, so long as we wish to be known as an enlightened and civilized nation among mankind, it is our bounden duty to sink sectarian prejudices, to admit our failing and acknowledge our errors, and to look at Truth with a steadfast eye and embrace it fearless of favour or frown. In no era of the world is reticence or cowardice more culpable than in the present when, under the aegis of Pax Britannica, there is peace at home and peace abroad, when the forces of consolidation are at work among the peoples of the land, and when.
"East and West, without a breath,
Mix their dim lights, like life and death,
To broaden into boundless day."
M. S. PURANALINGAM PILLAI, B.A., .L.T.