On Manickavasagar and Thiruvasagam | Times of India

March 9th, 20168:18 am Published by



A day after Sivaratri the Times of India recalls the works of influential Saivite poet-saint Manickavasagar. To read the article online, click on


Manickavasagar’s poetic achievement


Of all Tamil bhakti poetry Nammazhvar’s Thiruvaimozhi and Manickavasagar’s  Thiruvasagam are accorded special places over and above their canonical status because of their philosophical disposition, emotional intensity, and an easily identifiable personal voice. Nilakanda Sastry, the eminent historian of the Cholas has written that the complete recital of  Thiruvasagam (3414 odd lines) in the homes and the temples persists since the tenth century in Tamilnadu and apparently the verses of Thiruvasagam have served to articulate, and give expression to the spiritual aspirations of the Tamils. Writing in the preface to his English translation of Thiruvasagam in 1900 G.U.Pope noted that “The sacred mystic poetry of a people reveals their character and aspirations more truly than even their secular legends and ballads ..” What exactly is the appeal of Manickavasagar’s poetry beyond its religious contexts?


Kamil Zvelebil in his analysis of Thiruvasagam points out that more than any other Tamil Shaiva devotional poet Manickavasagar emphasises personal inner experience. When Manickavasagar was seized by Shiva, the god, and was revealed to him as the guru in Perundurai he sang:


“While unperishing love melted my bones,

I cried,

I shouted again and again,

louder than the waves of the billowing sea,

I became confused,

I fell,

I rolled,

I wailed.

Bewildered like a madman

intoxicated like a crazy drunk,

so that people were puzzled

and those who heard wondered,

wild as a rutting elephant which cannot be mounted,

I could not contain myself”


The emotional derangement, the slippage into madness, and breaking up of the borders of the consciousness are the repeated motifs in Manickavasagar’s poetry that serve him and the reader to experience the power, glory and the grace of the god. If G.U.Pope and other Christian missionaries see an opportunity for comparative theology between Christianity and Hindu faith in the conception of a gracefulgod, the reciters of Thiruvasagam see in madness (Translation of Tamil word Pittam) an occasion to perceive and experience the grace (arul) which is triggered by the poetry itself. If the altered state of consciousness is the prerequisite and the goal to experience the grace of god, the sacred speech (Thiruvasagam) of the poetry provides it to the devotee as a dialogue in a play would enable an actor to adorn a new garb and a self. Manickavasagar himself writes of this experience in Thiruchatakam;


“Like an actor in a play

I imitate your servants

andclamour to enter the inner chamber of your house,


lord brilliant as a mountain of gems set in gold,

give your grace

so I can love you with love so constant

my heart overflows.”


Manickavasagar’s work has several parts. The Tiruvembavai , a collection of twenty hymns in which he has imagined himself as a woman following the Paavai Nonbu and praising Shiva. The twenty songs of Tiruvembavai and ten songs of Tiruppalliezhuchi on the Tirupperunturai Lord are sung all over Tamilnadu in month of Margazhi. Tiruvembavai depicts the lord of grace as a playful one. In the hymn starting Moyyar thalami poygai pukku mugger ena (In the pretty pond surrounded by bees) he sings:


“Please take us within you,

In this play of life, only those who are fit win

And so help us not to get famished by this play”.


The whimsical abandon, the unpredictability, and the grace of Shiva, all converge around the image of playfulness.


Shiva’s playfulness indeed leads to despair and disillusionment for the poet and he sings the Neeththal Vinnappam (application for liberation from this world) the sixth hymn in Thiruvasagam at Uttarakosamangai, a village that finds frequently referred to after Perundurai and Tillai in his compositions. If we follow the legends of Manickavasagar’s life Thiruvasagam is the register of the poet’s spiritual journey from Perundurai to Tillai where Uttarakosamangai occupies a special place of inspired resignation and desired withdrawal.


In the history of Tamil poetry, Thiruvasagam  occupies a unique place of height and splendour where classicism transitioned into an age of self and its transcendence, otherwise known as bhakti. Thiruvasagam’s sweep over everyday lives of Tamils in our contemporary times is enormous indeed. From birth to funerary rites, from prayers in individual households to festivities in temples, Thiruvasagam offers the common man opportunities to reflect, introspect, and crave for eternal freedom. Even when one hears Manickavasagar’s hymn as a film song, for instance Paaruru Vaaya Pirappara Veendum in Tharai Thappattai the lyrics stun you into a mood of reflection. Such metaphysical offerings are rare in a culture and they are civilisational feats achieved by Manickavasagar and other Tamil bhakti poets.