THE AGE OF GNANA SAMBANTHA.
Our learned friend Mr. M. Narayanasami Iyer evidently ranks himself with those who think that the noise made by the late Prof. P. Sundaram Pillai's brochure on the age of our Saint was disproportionate to its importance. No wonder, he seeks to demolish his arguments by the query which he propounds in the last number of this journal. He unearthed a work of Sivagnana Vallalar (we must confess we have never board of this book till now) and gathered a tradition from the eulogistic verses that this Vallalar was a disciple of St. Gnana Sambantha, and found internal evidence in the verses themselves supporting the tradition. He received a shock however when he read in the same work references to the Santana Acharyas, but that does not deter him in any way from doubting the tradition itself, but straightway proceeds to add that our Saint should at best have been a contemporary of these Samaya Acharyas &c., and that he should have lived about the 14th Century A. C. This is certainly a great score for our friend, but unfortunately a little historical perspective and knowledge of the Tamil Literature would have disclosed the utter absurdity of the position.
The first point to notice is that our friend himself has not discovered the actual age of the Vallalar, so that we may be enabled to fix the age of Sambantha. At any rate, he lived subsequent to, or was a contemporary of, Saint Umapathi (vide verses quoted) and the Vallalar suggests that the books of St. Umapathi will make one a Jivan Mukta. This, by the way, shows what great respect and reverence he had for Umapathi, and the greatness of St. Umapathi was beyond question if he received such praise in his own life-time from such a person as Vallalar, a reputed disciple and contemporary of St. Gnanasambantha. But St. Umapathi was only the fourth of the Santana Acharyas and his master was St. Maraignana Sambantha, (so there was another Sambantha before St. Gnanasambantha) and his master was St. Arul Nanthi, whose master was St. Meikandan; and it is hardly likely that all the four were contemporaries, and we have no tradition to this effect. Any how St. Gnanasambantha was only sixteen years old when he entered the great Jyoti, and so he could not have been contemporaneous with St. Umapathi's predecessors. But who was this St. Umapathi and what were his works? Any edition of Periapuranam or திருத்தொண்டபுராணம்
will contain several of his works, namely 'திருத்தொண்டர்
திருநாமக்கோவை.' In the first, St. Umapathi gives the life of Sekkilar and how he came to write the திருத்தொண்டபுராணம். In the 2nd, he gives the story of Nambiandar Nambi of Naraiyur and how he discovered the famous Devara Hymns of St. Sambantha, St. Appar and St. Sundarar. And it was Nambiandar Nambi, The Tamil Vyasa who arranged the Tamil Veda into 11 books, the first three of which were the Hymns of St. Sambantha, the next three of St. Appar; the 7th book was that of St. Sundarar; the 8th consisted of திருவாசகம் and திருக்கோவை of St. Manicka Vachakar; the 9th, that of St. Tirumular's Tirumantram, the 10th
திருவிசைப்பா and திருப்பல்லாண்டு, and the 11th book consisted of a miscellaneous collection including the poems of God Somasundarar, and Karaikalmmaiyar and திருவெண்காடர் or Pattinattar and Nambi's own poem. Nambi lived in the reign of Kulasekara Chola. From the following stanzas (38 and 39) of திருமலைச்சிறப்பு in St. Sekkilar's Periapurana,
we gather that the materials from which he wrote his history consisted of the Devaram hymns themselves, and from study of the திருத்தொண்டத்தொகை of St. Sundarar and the திருவந்தாதி of Nambiandar Nambi we are driven to the conclusion that St. Sekkilar lived in the time of king Anabaya. And from Nambiandar's life, we learn that the image of St. Gnana Sambantha had been set up even in his time. So that, we have it that St. Sambantha is referred to in St. Sundarar's திருத்தொண்டத்தொகை, which formed the original for the short history drawn up by Nambiandar Nambi; St. Sekkilar wrote his materials from all these sources and st. Umapathi wrote Sekkilar's life and Nambiandar Nambi's life. In Nambi's time, the Devaram Hymns had been lost and were rediscovered by him. We know for certain also from St. Umapathi's work itself, when he lived. It was about 1300 A.D. We know for certain also from a copper plate, the age of Gandaraditya, one of the authors of திருவிசைப்பா (10th Veda or collection of Nambi). It was about 950 A. D. (Vide C. M. Duff's chronology of India p. 283). And St. Sundara lived before him. So that between St. Sambantha and St. Umapathi there was at least a difference of 5 or 6 centuries. And yet if our friend's story is true, St. Sambantha, Sundara, Gandaraditya, Pattinattar, Nambiandar Nambi, and a Sekkilar and Meikandan, Arul Nambi, Maraignana Sambantha and Umapathi, in fact nearly all the Saints of the Saivite calendar, should have lived at about the same time! A contingency never likely to be true unless History itself is going to run mad!! The திருத்தொண்டத்தொகை itself contains the names of many of the contemporaries and followers and disciples of St. Gnanasambantha, and it is a pity our Vallalar's name is conspicuous by its absence in this long list. Our thing more, திருவெண்காடர் or Pattinattar referred to by our Vallalar has himself sung the praises of St. Sambantha and others in the following lines.
The fact is, our Vallalar is quite a modern author, (his modernity apparent from his praising சடகோபர் in the same stanza) who thought, of course, he derived his inspiration from St. Gnana Sambantha. This is a common practice with Religious people, to pay homage to some Saint and invoke him as their Guru. And of all the Saints, St. Gnana Sambantha has had the largest number of such votaries and disciples, the fact that he was considered as an Avatar of God Subramanya giving additional stimulus to the worship. More famous that our Sivagnana Vallalar, among such pupils of St. Sambantha, was another Vallalar called Kannudaya Vallalar, the author of Ozhivilodukkam (ஒழுவிலொடுக்கம்), a book which the late Prof. P. Sundaram Pillai, characterized as brimming with intellectual similes. And the first verse devoted to the praise of Guru (குருவணக்கம்) is the following,
டேகம் – போதத்
In it, the author praises the uplifted finger of the 'Divine Child,' which pointed to the 'Parents of the World' 'Bhuvanesa Pitaram,' as 'பெம்மானிவனன்றே.' "This fore-finger is that of the Dancer when it pointed to the Lord of the Lords in the Hall of the Vedagamas. This is the crown which rests on the top of the six Adaras. This is the Sun which rises to dispel my mental darkness. This is the Rain cloud showering his gracious Bliss when I lost my 'I'"
The verse is a sublime one, both sound and sense befitting the subject. There are a number of other verses in which the author directly sets forth how St. Sambantha taught him this or that; and a typical verse is the following as it sets forth the highest doctrine of the Advaita-Siddhanta –
டென்னாமற்சும்மா திருவென்று – சொன்னான்
அருளாளன் ஞான விநோதன்
"This is my command! This is my command! This is my command!!! Never say it is one or two and be still. So said my Tirugnana Sambantha, of Sheerkali. The gracious Lord, wondrously wise." We may state the latest votary and pupil of our saint was the late lamented Sri-la-Sri S. Somasundara Nayagar who composed also many poems in a similar strain in praise of Gnana Sambantha.
In Prof. Sundaram Pillai's own time, his theories were fully corroborated by the discoveries of Dr. Hultszch and Mr. Venkayya, and today his conclusions are only receiving greater corroboration. Nay, the evidence brought forward by Mr. T. Veerabhadra Mudaliar, based on metrical tests, goes to show that the upper limit fixed by the Professor was too high. If the metres used by Sambantha had become obsolete even in a Sekkilar's time and was not understood, and later grammarians had rejected them as (வழுவமைதி) instead of knowing the ancient character of the metre and its great beauty, then is it too much to say that the upper limit was the 6th century.
J. M. N.