Panniru Thirumurai - Introduction

By Sri Skanda's Warrior of Light

Panniru Thirumurai (panniru = "twelve"; thirumurai = "holy books") refers to the twelve-book collection of hymns and writings of South Indian Saivite saints, compiled by Saint Nambi-Andar-Nambi (ca 1000).

One of the greatest movements of the world — the Saiva bakthi movement — took place in Tamil Nadu between the seventh and tenth centuries. The movement engulfed the entire land and the inspiration for this was the writings of the Saiva Saints, which formed the canonical literature of Saivism.

Read about the lives of these Tamil Saiva Saints on the The Sixty-Three Nayanars page

Saivism is a pan-Indian phenomenon. But it was these saints who took it to the common man through their hymns. For the first time, hymns were composed in the regional language, namely Tamil, instead of Sanskrit.

The Panniru Thimurai is a canonical literature that is unique in more than one sense. It was written in Tamil and formed the fountainhead of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. It was also divine and attracted people. The outpourings were superbly devotional and it was this that sparked off the bakthi movement.

The sincerity and depth of the poems of the Panniru Thirumurai captured the head and heart of the common people. The result was that the popular and powerful faiths of Buddhism and Jainism slowly faded away.

The Tamil Panniru Thirumurai Saivite literature paved the way for devotional literature in other regions to appear in their regional languages instead of Sanskrit. The bakthi movement spread all over the country. We find that this canonical literature occupies a special place in Indian religious literature. A study of Saivism in India is incomplete if the contribution of Tamil saints is not understood.

The canonical literature, as mentioned earlier, comprises of the poetry of Tamil Saivite Saints like Thiru-jnana sambanthar, Thiru-navukk-arasar (Appar), Sundarar, Manikkavasagar, and others. The corpus of devotional literature is collectively called Panniru Thirumurai. As the name reveals, it consists of twelve major titles. These 12 Thirumurais are arranged into four categories. They are:

  1. sthothiram (stothram)
    - hymns in praise (thirumuRais 1-9)

  2. chaaththiram (shaastram)
    - guidelines or philosophical treatises (10th thirumuRai)
  3. prabhantam (assorted)
    - songs composed of various language constructs (11th thirumuRai)
  4. puraaNam (history)
    - historical recount (12th thirumuRai)

The Thirumurais (holy books) have been named numerically as the 1st Thirumurai (Book 1), 2nd Thirumurai (Book 2), etc. Of these, the spiritual outpourings of Thiru-jnana sambanthar (ca 600) are divided into the first three books (Thirumurai 1-3). Thirumurais 4-6 are the hymns of Thiru-navukk-arasar (Appar) — a contemporary of Sambanthar. Thirumurai 7 contains the hymns of Saint Sundarar (ca 800). All these seven books are collectively called Thevaaram.

The 8 th Thirumurai is by Manikkavasagar (ca 850) and contains two works, namely Thiruvaasagam and Thirukkovaiyaar.

The 9 th Thirumurai, known as Thiruvisaippaa and Thiruppallaandu, which together comprise an anthology of hymns by nine saints (described in table below).

Thirumanthiram, a unique book by Saint Thirumular (ca 200 BCE) forms the 10th Thirumurai.

The 11th Thirumurai contains the hymns of ten saints, including Saint Nakkeerar and Nambi-Andar-Nambi (the compiler), called Prabhantams.

The 12th Thirumurai is the Periyapuraanam by Saint Sekkilaar (11th century), narrating the life story of the 63 Nayanar (Saivite) saints.

The Panniru (twelve) Thirumurais are summarized in the following table:

Thirumurai Name Author Verses
1 Thevaaram (thirukkadaikkaappu) Thiru-jnana sambanthar 4147
4 Thevaaram Thiru-navukk-arasar (Appar) 3067
7 Thevaaram (thiruppaattu) Sundarar 1026
8 Thiruvasaagam & ThirukkOvaiyaar Manikkavasagar 1056
9 Thiruvisaippaa & Thiruppallaandu Composed by nine authors:
thirumALigaiththEvar, chEndhanAr, karuvUrththEvar, pUnthuruththi kADanambi, kaNDarAdhiththar, vENATTaDikaL, thiruvAliyamudhanAr, puruDoththama nambi, chEdhirAyar
10 Thirumanthiram Thiru-Mular 3047
11 Prabanthams Composed by twelve authors (consisting of 41 prabhantams):
thiru-AlavAyuDaiyAr, kAraikkAl ammaiyAr, aiyaDikaL kADavarkOn, chEramAn perumAL, nakkIrar, kallADar, kapilar, paraNar, iLamperumAn aDikal, adhirAvaDikaL, paTTinaththup piLLaiyAr, nambi-ANDAr-nambi
12 Periya-Puraanam Sekkilaar 4286
Total (Number of verses available): 18349

Being a popular and favorite faith of Tamil Nadu, Saivism has attracted the attention of scholars of other religions too. This fact is exemplified by the efforts Dr. Rev. G.U. Pope, who took to translate Thiruvasagam and Tiruvarutpayan (one of the philosophical treatises of Saiva Siddhanta) into English. Other scholars, such as Kingsbury, attempted to render into English some of the stanzas of the works cited in the above table. Thus, Panniru Thirumurai has proven to be a subject for translation and research. More importantly, it is a subject to be studied in depth to understand Saivism, its people, and the culture of Tamil Nadu.

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"Panniru Tirumurai Project — Project to translate the Saiva Canon." Journal of Institute of Asian Studies. Sept. 1999

Dehejia, Vidya. Slaves of The Lord — - The Path of the Tamil Saints. New Delhi: Munshiram Monoharlal Publishers Private Ltd., 1988.

Peterson, Viswanathan Indira. Poems to Siva — The Hymns of the Tamil Saints. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1989.

Satguru Sivaya Subramuniya, Swami. Dancing with Siva. 5th ed. USA: Himalayan Academy, 1997.

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.



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