Thiru Navuk-Arasar (Appar) NAYANAR
Thiru-navuk-arasar (Navukarasar) lived in the 7th century A. D. He is one of the four Saiva Samaya Acharyas (Saivite spiritual teachers).
He was born in Thiruvamoor in Thirumunaipadi Nadu. Pukalanar was his father; Maathiniyar, his mother.
Maathiniyar gave birth to a daughter whom they named Tilakavathi. After some years, Mathiniyar had a son whom they called Marulneekiar (meaning “the dispeller of darkness or ignorance”). Early in life, Marulneekiar mastered all the Shastras.
When Tilakavatiar reached her twelfth year, she was, as per the ancient practices, proposed to Kalaipahayar, a military commander in the Pallava army.
As the happy family was making arrangements for the forthcoming wedding, all of a sudden, Pukalanar fell seriously ill and died. Following an ancient practice, Mathiniyar committed Sati (died on the husband’s funeral pyre – an ancient suicidal practice of young widows that was banned during the British rule in the 19th century).
Adding further to the woe, however, Kalaipahayar who was sent by the king to fight and, unfortunately, he too died in battle.
As the children were recovering from this shock of losing both parents, the news of Kalipahayar’s death reached Tilakavathiar. And as she (since her fiance) regarded him as her husband, she decided to commit Sati, too. But, Marulneekiar pleaded with her reminding her that now she was his mother, father and all, and also threatened to die if she would not change her mind and live.
The Little boy pleading his sister not to leave him alone
This made, Tilakavathiar to change her mind for the young brother’s sake. Even though she was young, she led the life of an ascetic. She was highly devoted to Lord Siva. Her glorious ascetic life has been sung by Sekkilaar, the author of Periya Puraanam. The sister became the mother to Marulneekiar (who later became known as Appar).
Marulneekiar, even while young, had realized the unreality of the world. He engaged himself in all kinds of charitable works. He was eager to find out the best religion and to follow it. He had heard much about Jainism and its wonderful practice of Ahimsa. He believed that Jainism would give him emancipation and so became a convert. He even went to Pataliputra (in South Arcot district) and joined the Jain school. He attained mastery over all their scriptures.
Tilakavathiar was heart-broken over this change in her brother. She abandoned her native place and settled in Thiruvadigai Virattanam, in a mutt she built there. She prayed fervently to Lord Virattaneswarar to save her brother and shower His grace upon him. The Lord appeared in her dream one day and said, “My child, your brother has already done severe penance in order to attain me. I will surely turn his mind, by making him suffer from severe colic, and then take him to my fold.”
Marulneekiar fell a victim to severe pain of colic. He could not bear the pain. The Jains tried their best but could not relieve the pain. Thinking he would die soon, they gave up on him and moved away. He felt intuitively that it was an eye-opening experience and lost faith in Jainism. He thought of his sister. He threw away the Jain garb and without informing anybody, returned to his sister.
Marulneekiar fell at her feet and prayed to her to protect him. She understood it was Lord Siva’s leela (divine play), and said that by the grace of Siva, he would be all right.
Nursing his brother, the sister applying Thiruneeru in his forehead
She smeared the holy ashes on his forehead and repeated the Panchakshara Mantra. His ignorance immediately vanished.
She then took him to the temple of Virattanesvarar where Marulneekiar worshipped the Lord and sang a hymn, and cried out, “Oh Lord, forgive me for my ignorance and of forgetting you, I committed a great sin of converting to another religion and also leaving my sister alone. Oh Lord, I have come back to you and you are my sole prop and refuge. Save me. I will ever keep your lotus feet in my heart.”
When Marulneekiar concluded the song, the pain disappeared.
A celestial voice said, “From now on you will be known as Navuk-Arasar (King of the tongue – means great orator/singer). Your glory will spread everywhere.” (In fact, his name is still famous as we read this, 13 centuries later, and use his hymns when praying the Lord)
Thus, Lord Siva’s grace restored Navukarasar’s faith in Saivism. Tilakavathiar was immensely happy, too. Navukarasar became a staunch devotee of Lord Siva and lived every second for Siva by repeating the Panchakshara Mantra.
The Jains at Pataliputra were afraid that, if the king came to know that because of their inability to treat Dharmasenar (The name they had given to Appar while he was with them) and so he had left them and gone back to Saivism, the king would take them to the task. So they concocted a new story and showed Navukarasar as a traitor against the king and the royal religion, Jainism.
The king ordered his ministers to produce Navukarasar before him. They went to Thiruvathikai, with an army. When Navukarasar heard of the charge against him, he said, “Oh Ministers! I am no longer your king’s subject. I am the subject of Lord Siva, the protector of all beings, the destroyer of all sins, the Lord of all gods, the bestower of immortality and eternal bliss. Disobedience to the king may amount to treason in the case of other people, not mine because I am under the protection of Lord Siva.
I can’t be scared, because I am under the protection of the one who once kicked Lord Yama, to save his disciple Markandeya.”
The ministers recognized his greatness but were afraid to return without Navukarasar. They, therefore, begged of him to come with them out of his supreme compassion and to establish the glory of Saivism. Navukarasar obliged and went with the king’s ministers.
The very sight of Navukarasar enraged the king who asked the Jain heads to decide upon the proper punishment to be meted out to him. They suggested that he be thrown into a burning lime kiln. Accordingly, Navukarasar was shut up in a kiln for seven days expecting him to die. He remained there, fixing his mind on the Lord and repeating Siva’s name. He sang a song starting with ‘Masil Veenaiyum Maalai Mathiyumam’ on the Lord.
By Siva’s grace, the heat of the kiln was transformed into a cool breeze.
Klin that supposed to be burning hot became a cool place
At the end of seven days, the Jains, to their surprise, found Navukarasar alive and absorbed in deep meditation. They attributed this to the power acquired by him when he was a Jain — and advised the king to give him different punishments. Again, by the grace of Lord Siva, he wasn’t affected by any. Again, the Jains attributed this to the efficacy of the Jain mantras which Navukarasar had learned from them and advised the king to have Navukarasar trampled by the Royal elephant.
The Elephant is rushing in to trample Appar
Navukarasar boldly facing the elephant sang a hymn in praise of the Lord. Navukarasar’s loving look transformed the elephant’s nature and it went round him and prostrated to him. The Mahouts goaded it but the elephant got wild and attacked the Mahouts and the Jains and killed some of them. Those who escaped ran to the king and fell at his feet. This was a great disgrace.
The king was greatly worried. The Jains finally advised the king to have Navukarasar tied to a stone and thrown into the sea. In accordance with the king’s orders, this was done.
Appar was tightened to a stone and thrown into the sea to drown
However, Navukarasar fixed his mind on Lord Siva and was continually repeating the Panchakshara Mantra.
Navukarasar sang hymns in praise of the Panchakshara. The hymn stated off with, “Sot-tunai Vethiyan, Sothy Vaanavan“. As soon as he finished the song the stone began to float like a boat and the coir ropes that was tightening him to the stone disappeared. Thiru-navuk-arasar (Appar) sat on the stone and was happily borne on the waves, which safely took him to the shores of Thiruppapuliyur. Thus, did the Lord save great disciple.
The stone floated like a boat
The Pallava King now convinced that Navukarasar was indeed blessed by the Lord and he fell at the feet of Appar and begged him to forgive. Navukarasar gave him Thiruneeru and blessed him and in return, he declared that he was reverting to Saivaism and announced his subject to do the same. All Jains in his court had run away already.
The king built the magnificent temple for Siva called Gunabharaveechuram at Thiruvathikai.
At Thiruppapuliyur, there was a huge congregation of Siva worshippers to welcome Navukarasar. He worshipped Lord Siva and sang hymns in praise of Him, “Oh Lord, the unseen Protector! You are my guide and savior. You are my father, mother, sister, and everything. Oh Lord of Mercy, You saved me from all dangers. Due to Your grace and love alone I am alive.”
Navukarasar then spent his days in worshipping and serving the Lord in various ways, also visited many sacred shrines, thus, emphasizing the glory of pilgrimage.
Whenever he goes to a temple he used to clear the bushes and grasses in the surroundings with the tool he always carries with him.
Navukarasar then went to Chidambaram at worshipped the Lord there.
While at Chidambaram, Navukarasar heard of the glory of Sambanthar ( One of the four Saiva Nayanmars) and how the child was blessed by Mother Parvathi. Navukarasar, therefore, was very eager to meet the great child saint who was at Seerkali.
As Navukarasar was proceeding towards Seerkali, the news traveled faster and Sambanthar also was happy and was eagerly looking forward to meeting him. When Navukarasar reached the outskirts of Seerkali, Samanthar was already there waiting to receive him. They fell at each other’s feet and set an example in saintly conduct.
Navukarasar and Sambanthar then went to the Thoniappar temple and worshipped the Lord there. At Sambanthar’s request, Navukarasar sang a hymn there.
Along with Sambanthar, Navukarasar(Appar) visited the temple at Thirukkolaka. Navukarasar then parted with Sambanthar and left the latter’s ashram and after visiting many shrines, reached Thiruvaavaduthurai. He sang a hymn there and expressing an intense desire, “Oh Lord, I am caught in the wheel of births and deaths. I am tired of this. Show me a way to get out of it.”
Then he came to Sattimutham. He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, place your holy lotus feet on my head before I leave this body.”
The Lord said, “Come to Thirunallur. I will fulfill your wish.”
Navukarasar accordingly went to Thirunallur and worshipped the Lord who placed his feet on the head of Navukarasar.
After visiting some more places of pilgrimage, Navukarasar went to Tingalur, where he formed a miracle and brought saint Apputhi Adigal’s son back to life.
At Thiruvaaroor, Navukarasar was given a rousing welcome by the Siva bhaktas. He had the Lord’s darshan there. His heart was overflowing with love. He shed tears of love. He danced in joy. He was immersed in divine bliss.
Navukarasar went to Thirupukalur, after visiting other shrines on the way. Coincidently, Sambanthar was there, too, and the two saints met each other for the second time. At Navukarasar’s request, Sambanthar went to Thiruvaaroor and had the Lord’s darshan there. Both the saints remained at Thirupukalur for some time and many other saints took this golden opportunity of having the darshan of these two great Acharyas (spiritual preceptors) together. Nilakantha Yalpannar, Siruthondar, Muruga Nayanar, and many others came to Thirupukalur, and discussed the glory of the Lord.
The two saints then moved on to Thiruveelimalai. Famine raged there at that time. Navukarasar and Sambanthar were greatly moved by the suffering of the people and prayed to the Lord for relief. The Lord promised to give them a golden coin each every day, with which they could feed the people. Lord Siva placed two coins, one at the western entrance and the other at the eastern entrance to the temple — both Navukarasar and Sambanthar collected the coins and relieved the suffering of the people. The famine soon came to an end. Both the saints praised the glory of the Lord and left.
Then they came to Thirumaraikadu or the present-day Vedranyam. There was a story attached to the temple there: Once long back, the Vedas themselves used to worship the Lord here. When people neglected the study of the Vedas, this was discontinued. From that time, the door by which the Vedas used to enter, remained closed. There was another door by which people would go in and worship. Appar and Sambanthar heard of this when they came there. Sambanthar desired to enter through the door which remained closed. He requested Appar to sing a song. The doors opened by themselves, by the Will of God. They went in and worshipped the Lord. When they returned to that entrance, Appar requested Sambanthar to sing a song, so that the door could close again. Sambanthar sang and the door closed again.
Navukarasar then visited Thiruvaavaduthurai, and came to Palaiyarai. Here he came to the Vadathalai temple and worshipped the Lord from outside. He came to know that the Jains had converted this into a Jain temple and that they had removed the Sivalingam to an unknown place. He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, I will not proceed an inch from here till I have the darshan of your image which has been removed by the Jains to an unknown place.”
The Lord appeared before the king in his dream and said, “Oh king, my bhakta Navukarasar is fasting to have my darshan. Go at once and drive out the Jains, so that Navukarasar could enter the temple and have my darshan.” Lord Siva also told the king where the Lingam lay hidden.
The king woke up and immediately summoned his ministers. He went to the temple, drove away from the Jains and fell at the feet of Appar. The temple was immediately reconverted into a Siva temple and the Lingam installed once again. Appar worshipped the Lord and was happy.
After visiting Thiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram, and Kalahasthi, where he sang the glories of Kannappar, Appar felt a desire to go to Kailasa. He went to Banaras and worshipped Lord Viswanath. He turned northwards and crossed many thick forests infested by wild animals. By Navukarasar’s mere look, the wild animals became tame! He walked night and day. His feet were sore. Then he crawled with his hands. His elbows began to bleed now. Then he used his chest and crawled on. His chest also began to bleed and the ribs began to break. Still, Appar, undaunted, continued his journey to Kailasa, rolling on the ground. Appar wanted to go to Kailasa but the Lord wanted that Navukarasar should live in the world for many more years singing His glories. The Lord created a tank nearby and appeared before Appar in the form of a saint, with matted locks, rudraksham and holy ashes. The saint found out from Appar that he was proceeding to Kailasa and said, “Oh friend, the Lord of Kailasa cannot be seen by human beings. So, turn back.”
Appar said, “So long as I have this body, I will not turn back without going to Kailasa.” He turned towards the saint again, bowed to him, and began to part for Kailasa.
Appar understood it was the Lord Himself. The Lord afterward kept Appar invisible company, giving him encouraging words now and then. Appar mentally prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, give me a fresh body, so that I may continue the journey.”
The Lord directed Navukarasar to take bath in a near-by tank and said, “You will see me and my abode (Kailasa) in Thiruvayar.”
Appar, repeating the Panchakshara Mantra, took a dip in the tank. He came out of the tank, and found himself in the tank at Thiruvayar — hundreds of miles away to the south! Navukarasar came outside and saw everywhere Siva and Sakthi. He entered the temple and saw Mount Kailasa there. He saw Lord Siva seated with Mother Parvathi, surrounded by gods, and celestial servants praising his glory. Navukarasar went into a trance, sang Lord Siva’s glories and danced.
Then, Navukarasar had a mutt built for him at Thirupoonthurai and remained there. Sambanthar had, in the meantime, defeated the Jains at Madurai and was coming to Thirupoondurai. Appar went forward to receive him. Without Sambanthar’s knowledge, Appar quietly joined those who were carrying Sambanthar’s palanquin.
On reaching Navukarasar’s mutt in Thirupoonthurai, Sambanthar cried out, “Where is Appar?” and Appar, from below the palanquin coolly announced himself.
At once Sambanthar jumped out of the palanquin and fell at the feet of Appar who had, by his example, demonstrated the humility of a true saint. They embraced each other and shed tears of love. (Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Appar was advanced in age and Sambanthar was only seven years old at the time.)
Then, Appar wanted to see the state of Saivism in the Pandyan kingdom, for himself and left for Madurai. The king (Ninra-Seer-Nedumaar Nayanar), the queen (Mangaiyarkarasi Ammaiyar Nayanar), and the minister (Kulachirai Nayanar) welcomed Appar with devotion. Appar remained there for some days, worshipping the Lord. Then he went to Rameswaram and other sacred places before returning to Thirupukalur.
Appar spent the rest of his life in Thirupukalur and at the age of 81 merged himself in Lord Siva.