Marshall Govindan, ed. Thirumandiram: A Classic of Yoga and Tantra by Siddhar Thirumoolar. Transl. from the Tamil with notes by B. Natarajan. Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Publications, 3 vols., paperback. (196 Mountain Road, P.O. Box 90, Eastman, Quebec, Canada J0E 1P0)
All serious Yoga students are familiar with the Bhagavad-Gîtâ (“Lord’s Song”) and the Yoga-Sûtra (“Aphorisms of Yoga”), which are Yoga classics written in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the brahmins. Few Western students, however, are aware of the fact that there are a number of extraordinary traditional works on Yoga that are composed in languages other than Sanskrit. One of these exceptional scriptures is Tirumûlar’sTirumandiram (“Sacred Word,” Sanskrit: Shrî-Mantra), composed in the Tamil language.
It was authored in the sixth or seventh century C.E., though some authorities place it earlier. Thus Marshall Govindan, the editor of Natarajan’s rendering, places the text in the second century C.E. The Tirumandiram, which consists of 3047 melodious verses, captures the essential teachings of Siddha-Yoga, or the Yoga of the perfected adepts. This is the yogic path of the Shaiva Siddhânta tradition flourishing in South India, which, as the name indicates, revolves around the worship of the Divine in the form of Shiva. The name Shiva means “Benevolent One,” and the adjective shaiva means “relating to Shiva.” The Sanskrit word siddhânta, again, means as much as “philosophical doctrine” or “accomplished teaching.”
Who was Tirumûlar, the saintly author of the Tirumandiram? Tradition recalls that he was a cowherd who tended his cattle in the hills of South India and who filled his lonely days with a burning love for the Divine. His spiritual passion to merge with Shiva in mystical union in due course turned him into a venerated sage. The Periya-Purânam tells the story somewhat differently. Tirumûlar was an adept who was traveling from North India to the South when he came across a herd of cows that were mooing in pain because they had not been milked in quite some time. Unbeknown to anyone, the cowherd Mûlan had died. Feeling tremendous compassion for the cows, Tirumûlar used his yogic powers to enter and reanimate Mûlan’s dead body and henceforth live as the lowly cowherd. He know, of course, that in the eyes of Shiva, none is low or high.
Whichever version of the story is true, what is certain is that Tirumûlar was one of the early Shiva-worshipping adepts of the South. He achieved no particular fame during his lifetime, but, as is often the case with saintly folk, his greatness was increasingly recognized after his death. Several centuries later, his masterful work was incorporated into the Shaiva canon, and today he is remembered as one of South India’s greatest Yoga adepts.
His Tirumandiram sparkles with original wisdom demonstrating his deep understanding of life and his rare knowledge of the secrets of Siddha-Yoga. His poetry talks about the unity of the Divine, the transformative power of devotion (bhakti), the efficacy of mantras (in Tamil: mandiram), the vital connection between breath and mind, sublime visions, ultimate God-realization, and not least the serpent power (kundalinî-shakti) and the esoteric structures of the subtle body, such as the nâdîs and cakras. Tirumûlar also reveals secrets of sexual Yoga and bodily rejuvenation. He was not an innovator, and most, if not all, of his ideas can be found in other Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures. But in the Tirumandiram they are communicated with the kind of inspired vividness and beauty that spring from direct personal experience and seek to instill the same experience in others. Thus theTirumandiram is as important a Yoga scripture as the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, the Yoga-Sûtra, or the voluminous and inspiring Yoga-Vâsishtha. Sings Tirumûlar:
Oh! who else is kin to me but You?
Come to me that I may see You,
Let me not feel shy to embrace Your feet!
For to the heart of Your servant, pure and true
You ever stood even as the axle-pin. (29)
All the world may well attain the bliss I have received.
If the name of the Lord chanted by the great ones is repeated,
Within the heart will arise a thrilling unstruck sound
Which, when practised, will lead to realization. (85)
Our intelligence entangled in the senses
Finds itself in very deep waters.
But inside our consciousness is a deeper Consciousness,
which the Supreme Grace stimulates. (119)
Time was when I despised the body;
But then I saw the God within
And the body, I realised, is the Lord’s temple
and so I began preserving it
With care infinite. (725)
The present English rendering, prepared in the 1970s by Dr. Natarajan, tries to capture the deep meaning of the Tamil original. The translator’s “Indian English,” however, falls short of also conveying the poetic beauty of theTirumandiram. But this should not prevent Western students of Yoga from acquiring and delving into this outstanding text, now available in a fine three-volume edition thanks to the Marshall Govindan’s labor of love.
Originally reviewed © Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.