36. Cheraman Perumal
(pronunciation = 'cheraman perumaal')
By Swami Sivananda
Cheraman Perumal Nayanar was born in Kodunkolur. It was the capital city of Malai Nadu (the present Kerala). He was born in the royal family of Kothayars, otherwise known as the Uthiyan family. The name "Cheraman" was the common name for all Cheras. "Perumal" was the title adopted by him after his coronation. His original name was Perum-Ma-Kothayar.
Cheraman Perumal was endowed with good samskaras. He had great devotion to the Lord even as a child. As he grew, his devotion also grew. He had a remarkable degree of dispassion and discrimination. He did not like to rule the country. So, when he came of age, he renounced the world and went to Thiru Anchaikalam and engaged himself in the worship of the Lord there.
The country was, instead, ruled by Sengol Porayan. He, too, soon realized the evanescence of worldly life and renounced the world! He had no issues and the throne was vacant.
Sengol Porayan went to Thiru Anchaikalam and requested Perum-Ma-Kothayar to ascend the throne. Though Cheraman Perumal was reluctant, lest it should interfere with his daily worship, he bowed to the divine will. He went to the temple and offered a prayer. The Lord permitted him to accept the rulership. By the Lord's grace, Cheraman Perumal ascended the throne and ruled the country justly and wisely. He could understand all languages, even the language of the birds. The Lord had bestowed upon him all the aiswaryas, great strength, royal vehicles, etc.
After the coronation, Cheraman Perumal went to the temple.
After worshipping the Lord there, Cheraman Perumal returned to the palace. On the way, Cheraman Perumal saw a washerman whose body had been smeared with white sand and mud. The very sight enraptured Cheraman Perumal who saw in the washerman the image of Lord Siva with the sacred ash smeared all over the body. Cheraman Perumal was raised to God-consciousness.
Cheraman Perumal descended from the elephant and fell at the feet of the washerman, in spite of the latter's protest. All were wonderstruck to witness the supreme devotion of Cheraman Perumal Nayanar.
By his many acts of devotion and piety, Cheraman Perumal earned the grace of Lord Siva. The Lord sent to Cheraman Perumal a renowned musician and devotee, Banapatirar, with a palm leaf on which was the Lord's own song in praise of Cheraman Perumal! It read, "Oh king who honours great poets with rich presents, who rules his subjects with love! Glory to you! I am very highly pleased with your devotion and charitable nature. The bearer of this message is Banapatirar who is a great devotee like you. He is a great musician and always sings My glories on his favourite instrument, Yaal. He has come to see you. Welcome him with due respect and honour him with plenty of riches."
Cheraman Perumal welcomed the musician with great love and devotion. When Banapatirar read the song of the Lord, Cheraman Perumal was overjoyed and rolled on the ground.
Cheraman Perumal said to Banapatirar, "Oh noble soul, kindly take possession of all these and accept my kingdom also."
Banapatirar was astounded to witness the king's devotion and repliled, "Oh king, I am highly pleased with your darshan. I shall accept only what is absolutely necessary for me, for that has been the command of the Lord."
Banapatirar took only what he needed and left Kodunkolur on an elephant. Cheraman Perumal Nayanar escorted Banapatirar up to the border.
Cheraman Perumal Nayanar was greatly devoted to Lord Nataraja. He had surrendered his body, mind and soul to Him. He would daily worship the Lord: and, by His grace, at the time of his prayer, he would hear the musical sound produced by the Lord's anklets during Lord Nataraja's dance.
One day, however, at the time of the prayer, Cheraman Perumal did not hear the usual divine sound. Cheraman Perumal was greatly afflicted at heart. He thought that he must have been guilty of a great crime and decided to end his life, with his sword. At once, Cheraman Perumal heard the divine sound and a voice in the sky explained, "Oh noble soul, My friend Nambi Arurar has come to Thillai and he was singing sweet Tamil songs. I was completely absorbed in that and hence, the delay in blessing you with the musical sound of My anklet."
The Lord wanted to create a friendship between Sundarar and Cheraman Perumal and so spoke highly of Sundarar to Cheraman Perumal. Cheraman Perumal, desirous of worshipping Lord Nataraja and also of meeting Sundarar, at once started for Thillai.
The very sight of the Lord in Thillai entranced Cheraman Perumal. He sang "Pon Vannathu Anthadi" on Lord Nataraja. In appreciation, the Lord blessed Cheraman Perumal with the musical sound of His anklets. Cheraman Perumal was swimming in divine bliss.
Before Cheraman Perumal reached Thillai, Sundarar had already left the place. So, Cheraman Perumal proceeded to Thiruvaaroor where he met Sundarar. They embraced each other and fell at each other's feet. They fast became friends.
At Thiruvaaroor, Cheraman Perumal composed the famous "Thiru Mummanikovai" on Lord Thiagaraja.
Cheraman Perumal and Sundarar then went to Vedaranyam. There Cheraman Perumal sang "Thiru Anthati" on the Lord.
After visiting many shrines on the way they came to Madurai. The Pandyan king welcomed them. The Chola prince who was staying with the Pandyan king also welcomed them. In company of the royals, the great saints visited many shrines.
Cheraman Perumal and Sundarar then took leave of the kings and returned to Thiruvaaroor. From there, at the request of Cheraman Perumal, Sundarar accompanied him to Kodunkolur.
At Kodunkolur, Cheraman Perumal took Sundarar on an elephant and went round the city in procession.
When Sundarar returned to Thiruvaaroor, he had instructed Cheraman Perumal to rule the country justly and wisely. Cheraman Perumal obeyed the saint's commands.
On the next occasion when Sundarar visited Kodunkolur, Sundarar suddenly left the place and went to the sacred shrine at Thiru Anchaikalam where he sought the Lord's grace and attained liberation. By intuition, Cheraman Perumal learnt of Sundarar's release and also desired to attain the lotus feet of the Lord. So using yogic siddhis bestowed to him, Cheraman Perumal shed his mortal coil and proceeded to Kailasa, where Sundarar was heading on a celestial car (a white elephant bestowed by Lord Siva to Sundarar).
In Kailasa, Cheraman Perumal became the chief of Lord Siva's Ganas (servants).
Sekkilaar, and G. Vanmikanathan. Periya Puranam A Tamil Classic On The Great Saiva Saints of South India. Ed. Dr. N. Mahalingam. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2000.
Sivananda, Swami. Sixty-Three Nayanar Saints. World Wide Web edition. India: Divine Life Society, 1999.