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Appar Story – Tirunavukkarasar Life History

Appar, also known as Thirunavukkarasar or Navukkarasar, was a Tamil Shaiva poet-saint from the seventh century. The life history of Thirunavukkarasar shows his return to Shaiva form of worship after embracing Jainism.

Appar Story

Born into a humble Shaiva family, he was raised as an orphan by his sister and lived for about 80 years, with his life generally dated between 570 and 650 CE. Appar composed a total of 4,900 devotional hymns dedicated to the god Shiva, of which 313 have survived and are now recognized as the 4th to 6th volumes of the Tirumurai. He holds a significant place among the sixty-three revered Nayanars, the devout Shaiva saints.

Originally named Marulneekkiyar, Appar was later called Dharmasenar during his study and leadership at a Jain monastery. However, after returning to Shaivism and composing devotional hymns to Shiva, he came to be known as Appar, a name given by the child poet-saint Sambandar. Sambandar affectionately referred to him as "Appar" (meaning father). Appar is also known as Tirunavukkarasar (meaning "King of the Tongue or Lord of Language").

Orphaned at a young age, Appar was raised by his elder sister, Thilagavathiar, who had dedicated her life to Shaivism and caring for her brother after her betrothed, a military commander, died in battle. Appar spent his early years in Tiruvamur village near Atikai, according to most accounts.

Unlike his sister, Appar initially embraced Jainism. He left home and joined a Jain monastery, where he was renamed Dharmasena (Tarumachenar). He studied Jainism and eventually became the head of the Jain monastery in Tiruppatirippuliyur. However, due to a painful stomach ailment, he returned home, and it was his sister who provided him with Tiruniru (sacred ash) and taught him the five-syllable mantra "namaccivaya" (Namah Shivaya). Together, they visited a Shiva temple in Atikai, where he spontaneously composed his first hymn of Thevaram. While singing the second verse, he experienced a miraculous cure of his stomach illness. From that point, he was known as Navukkaracar, or more popularly, Appar. He renounced Jainism and became a devoted Shaiva.

Appar's hymns are deeply devotional to Shiva, with occasional verses expressing remorse for his time as a Jain. In Tevaram hymn IV.39 and others, he critiqued the Jain monastic practices, such as not brushing teeth, lack of personal hygiene, harsh ascetic practices, the doctrine of pallurai (anekantavada) as self-contradictory relativism, and the hypocrisy of withdrawing from the world and yet begging for sustenance within that same world.

Appar primarily resided in Atikai with his sister but also traveled to other Shiva temples to sing praises to Shiva. Upon hearing of Sambandar, he journeyed to Sirkali to meet him, and Sambandar respectfully addressed him as Appar (father). Together, they traveled, singing hymns. Appar is believed to have visited around 125 temples in various towns and villages across Tamil Nadu. He passed away during the Sadhaya Nakshatra in the Tamil month of Chithirai at the Tirupukalur Shiva temple at the age of 81.