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Sundaramurti – One Of The Four Great Teachers Of Tamil Shaivism

Sundaramurti (7th Century CE) is one of the four great teachers of Tamil Shaivism. He was the first biographer of the Tamil Shaivite saints. Though his Tiru-ton dattokai is a short work, it excels in its presentation of the lives of the saints and is his major contribution to the tradition.

Born in a Brahmin priestly family at Thirunavalur, Sundaramurti was given the name Arurana. His marriage with a bride of his caste was interrupted by Shiva to prevent him from engrossing in worldly life, but he later married Paravai and Sangili, belonging to the devadasi and farmer communities, respectively.

Sundaramurti visited more than one hundred temples of Mahadev Shiva and composed many Tevaram hymns, of which only a thousand verses are available.

Cekkilar’s Periya Puranam recounts many miracles that occurred in Sundaramurti’s life. A few of them are verified by internal evidence in Sundaramurti’s Tevaram. A divine voice conferred on him the surname Thambiran Tolar (the lord’s friend). This made him take liberties with the Lord; at times, he even voices displeasure over his acts. Bhagavan punished him and rewarded him in order to dispel his illusion.

Cerman Perumal, a contemporary Chera king, was a close friend of Sundaramurti. He composed two poems that have gone into the collection of Thirumurai as those of Sundramurti.

Sundaramurti attained liberation at Tiruancaikkalam, the Cera capital. The last decade that he sang in praise of Tirundittanmalai is a clear evidence of his ascent to heaven. Therein he records that he was blessed with Ayiravanam, Shiva’s elephant, to convey him.

Sundaramurti’s contribution to the development and spread of Shaivism is similar to that of the other two great teachers, Gnanasambandar and Navukkarasar. Leading the Bhakti movement, they traveled extensively and rejuvenated southern Shaivism. Tevaram hymns composed by them attracted the people and their rulers towards Shaivism.

By about the 13th century, Tevaram hymns formed the basis of the codified Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. This is testified to by the collections of Tevaram made by Agathiyar and Umapathy Sivachariyar. Of the collections, more than fifteen decades authored by Sundaramurti explain the Saiva Siddhanta concepts. Umapathy Sivachariyar deals with all these concepts in detail in his philosophical treatise, Tiru-arut-payan.