The term “mantram” denotos “an idea that sustains and safeguards a person who is immersed, as it were, in seeking Truth through its instrumentality.”
It is ideas that elevate men to great heights. Naturally, one who feels a compulsive urge to enter into a higher spiritual level, should safeguard oneself with ideas that bring about an upward orientation in one’s being.
Mantram is the spark that lights the torch of knowledge. The late Dr. V. V. Ramanana Sastri defines mantram as “an idea that is formed out of (spiritual) churning.” And he adds: “Mantrams, therefore, are images that emerge in the mind as a result of ceaseless concentration.” Such mantrams means of attaining true knowledge.
Tirumantram by Tirumular is one of the most important of the Tamil works on mamtrams handed down to us from out saints and seers.
Scholars hold conflicting views on the date of composition of Tirumantrarn, and, whether or not it is a translation from Sanskrit. It is the privilege of scholars to disagree. We shall not here enter into academic controversies. However, it is well that we seek to have some idea of the social environment of the age in which Tirumular lived and produced his magnum opus.
Tirumular’s origin, the circumstances that led to his leaving Kailas and to his settling down in the land of the Tamils the social forces that inspired him to produce the immortal Tirumantram, all these are lost in the mists of antiquity. We do not even know the real name of this great sage. Tirumular is the name be acquired 1ater when he became a shepherd. No historical background is possible. We have, therefore, to turn to another great treatise, Periya Puranam, for what it has to say on the story of his life.
The sage, says Periya Puramam, came to Tamil Nad from Kailas to meet his friend Agastya. After offering worship at several famous shrines, he reached Sattanur, a village on the banks of the Kaveri, where he witnessed the tragic spectacle of a herd of cows weeping over the corpse of a shepherd. Evidently, the shepherd had met with sudden death, and the cows, feeling that some great tragedy had befallen their master, stood hovering about the body, unwilling to move away. They smelled it, and tears rolled down their long white cheeks like silvery rivulets.
This moving sight struck a responsive chord in the sage, and he decided to end the agony of the cows. As one who had mastered the eight siddhis, he knew the technique of moving from one body to another. He cast aside his body in a safe place, and penetrated into the shepherd’s body. The shepherd immediately came to life and got up. The cows danced with joy on seeing their master alive again.
The sage who now lived in the body of the shepherd (his name was Mulan) followed the cows back to the village in the enening. But he stood in the street without entering Mulan’s house. Mulan’s wife who was awaiting her husband’s return came out, and was puzzled to find him standing in the street . She called him in, and moved up to take his hand. But he stepped aside, and asked her not to touch him. He denied he had relationship whatsoever with her. Then he entered into a neighbouring mutt, and was soon immersed in deep contemplation.
Mulan’s wife would not be consoled easily. How could the poor woman know that her husband was no more and that another saintly soul was now dwelling in his body? She complained to her relatives against her husband’s behaviour and cried that he had lost his senses. Some of the elders of the village who saw him at the mutt were wise enough to perceive that the shepherd was in a state of samadhi. They, therefore, asked her not to disturb him, but to leave him alone.
When the sage emerged from contemplation the next morning, he straightaway went to the spot where he had left his former body. But it was not to be found there! He then realised that he was destined to spend the rest of his life as Mulan the shepherd, that it was Gods will that he should fulfil His purpose as a shepherd.
Known thenceforth as Tirumular (derived after the shepherd’s name Mulan), he left Sattanur and reached Tiruvavaduthurai, where he sat under a Bodhi tree and passed into a state of deep contemplation. Once a year lie woke up, and each time he composed a stanza containing the cream of his spiritual experiences during the year. It took 3000 years for him to compose the 3000 stanzas comprising Tirurnantram.
This account of his life in Peria puranam gives perhaps a clue to the state of society which obtained at the time of Tirumular. Why did Tirumular choose to come down all the way to the land of the Tamils? How did it come to pass that this great exponent of the vedas and the Agamas was given the form of a shepherd in a lower rung of the social ladder to expound the great Saiva Siddhanta school of philosophy? And why was Saiva Siddhanta in particular chosen in preference to other systems of thought? It is well that we seek hove some answer to these questions, if only for obtaining a correct appreciation of some of the stanzas in T1rumantram, such as, for instance, those expressing his strong condemnation of the pretensions of impostors masquerading as saints and Seers.
Presumably, early Indian thought, which gave birth to some of the greatest metaphysical systems the world has ever seen, received a setback, and an era of sterility and stagnation had commenced. True learning and character were eclipsed by principles and practices justifying social malpractices. The true import of the Vedas and the Agamas was allowed to be lost in the jungle of rituals and dogmas. Tamil Nad, the cradle of Saiva Siddhanta, had become the breeding ground of false prophets who used religion and philosophy for securing personal advantages. Such, obviously, was the state of Tamil society which Tirumular felt compelled to reconstruct on lines set forth in the Vedas and the Agamas and as he understood them in the light of his spiritual experiences.
Tirumular wanted humanity to share the divine bliss which he himself had enjoyed. This sharing of his happiness, this freedom of the soul from ignorance and bondage, cannot however he secured unless, first, some of the fundamental tenets of Saiva Siddhanta were instilled into the minds of the people.
Tirumular taught that the liberation of the pasu (soul) was not dependent on the caste, high or low, of the person in whom it dwells; that the soul can attain freedom only if one followed the right path without allowing oneself to be diverted toward blind alleys; that Saiva Siddhanta, which is the cream of the Vedas and the Agamas, opens the window that reveals true knowledge.
This account, therefore, of Tirumular’s teaching Tirumantram as a shepherd, should serve to emphasise his advice that, inasmuch as the soul and not the body that must needs be freed from bondage, any person, be he of high or low birth, can seek to attain Sivananda (divine bliss). That he should have come from Kailas to Tamil Nad in the extreme South may be taken as reflecting his anxiety that the correct principles of Saiva Siddhanta should again be taught and reinforced in the land of its birth, where social conditions had so altered as to obliterate the prime principles of the Vedas and the Agamas. If the Vedas may be described as the tree of knowledge, the Agamas are its branches and leaves and fruits. While the Vedas content themselves with stating that the soul is the Brahman, the Agamas instruct and guide in leading the soul toward its union with the Absolute Being.