Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

39 Who Are the Four Great Tamil Saints?§


The Nalvars, four of the Nayanars, teachers of Siva, stand with a temple behind. Their songs, writings and lives inspired Saivites through hard times. Left to right: Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar & Manikkavasagar.§


The Nalvars are four Saiva saints who lived in Tamil Nadu around 1,200 years ago. Each composed devotional songs that are sung today in satsangs and temples. Their names are Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar. All are deeply revered by Tamil Saivites. Saint Tirunavukkarasar, known as Appar (“father”), traveled from temple to temple worshiping Siva. He chose the humblest of work, sweeping the temple walks and weeding the stone courtyards. Saint Sundarar is known for his deep visions of Lord Siva and for several miraculous events that occurred in his life. A poor man, he often prayed for money or food for his family. His prayers were always answered. The third saint, Sambandar, was just three years old when he was blessed with a vision of Lord Siva, after which he spontaneously sang his first song. He traveled throughout South India, sometimes with Appar, his elder, singing the praises of Siva. At age 16, his family arranged for him to be married. But this was not to be. He was so devoted to Siva that just before the wedding, he disappeared into the sanctum of Tirunallurperuman Siva Temple near Chidambaram and was never seen again. The songs of the first three saints are called Devarams. Manikkavasagar, the fourth Nalvar, was prime minister to the Pandyan king of Madurai. One day he was blessed with enlightenment in a vision of Lord Siva sitting under a banyan tree. After this he left the royal court and traveled about, composing songs and building a temple for Siva at Tiruperunthurai. His poems stress the importance of the Namaḥ Śivāya mantra, developing dispassion and cultivating love of Lord Siva. His highly poetic hymns are found in two collections, Tiruvasagam and Tirukovaiyar.§


GURUDEVA: Our saints have sung that Siva is within us, and we are within Siva. Knowing that, fear and worry and doubt are forever gone from our mind.§