The Necessity of having a Guru
Thayumanavar’s reverence for his Mauna Guru, for the teachings he gave him, and for the experiences he ultimately bestowed on him, were the subject of another poem that Bhagavan mentioned. The subject arose when Bhagavan was asked about the necessity of having a Guru:
‘Is it possible to gain knowledge without the blessings of a Guru?’ asked a devotee. Even Rama, who was like a dullard in his early life, became a realised soul only with the help of his Guru.’
‘Yes, said Bhagavan, ‘how can there be any doubts?’ The grace of the Guru is absolutely necessary. That is why Thayumanavar praised his Guru in his hymns.
கானகம் இலங்குபுலி பசுவொடு குலாவும்;நின்
கைகாட்ட வுங்கையால் நெகிடிக் கெனப்பெரிய
போனகம் அமைந்ததென அக்காம தேனுநின்
புவிராஜர் கவிராஜர் தவராஜர் என்றுனைப்
ஞானகரு ணாகர முகங்கண்ட போதிலே
நட்பினை விரும்புவார்; சுகர்,வாம தேவர்முதல்
வானகமும் மண்ணகமும் வந்தெதிர் வணங்கிடும்உன்
மந்த்ரகுரு வேயோக தந்த்ரகுரு வேமூலன்
மரபில்வரு மௌன குருவே.
-மௌனகுரு வணக்கம் 7
At your [Mauna Guru’s] glance,
the tiger that roams the forest
will sport with the cow.
At a sign of your hand,
the rutting elephant will come,
carrying with his trunk
a huge load of great logs for a bonfire.
Kamadhenu herself will attend
your golden feet,
saying, ‘Your meal is prepared’.
Kings of the earth, and kings of verse
will laud you as the king of tapas,
crying out ‘ Victory and praise to you!’
At the mere sight of your face,
abode of knowledge and compassion,
the nine siddhas will desire your friendship.
Realised sages, with Suka
and Vamadevar at their head,
will express their admiration for you.
Is it easy to tell of the greatness of you,
before whom both heaven and earth
come to offer their worship?
The verse that follows was not specifically mentioned by Bhagavan. We have inserted it here because it closely resembles the contents of a verse by another author that Bhagavan quoted immediately after mentioning Thayumanavar. That verse said: ‘O Gurudeva, your look falling upon it, a tiger becomes gentle like a goat, a snake like a squirrel, and a bad man becomes a good man….’
மந்த்ரகுரு வேயோக தந்த்ரகுரு வேமூலன்
மரபில்வரு மௌன குருவே.
Mantra Guru! Yoga Tantra Guru!
Mauna Guru, sprung from Tirumular’s ancestral line! 20
-Maunaguru Vanakkam’, verse 7.
Bhagavan concluded his description of the greatness of the Guru by commenting, ‘The Guru’s grace is extraordinary’.
Having been refused permission to follow Mauna Guru wherever he went, Thayumanavar continued to serve at the royal court. After some time, though, the prince, who was a pious man himself, noticed the depth of Thayumanavar’s devotion and offered to release him from his service. When Thayumanavar told the prince that he just wanted to spend his life in meditation, the prince accepted his resignation and gave him a small house on the banks of the River Kaveri where he could meditate undisturbed. The prince, who had recognized his holiness, visited him regularly and often brought him gifts.
In 1731 the prince, who apparently was not a very able ruler, died soon after losing a major battle to an army that had attempted to invade part of his territory. His widow, Rani Meenakshi, took over the running of the kingdom. She came to Thayumanavar for advice on how to run the country’s affairs, and for some time he had to go back to his former job as a royal advisor. However, in an unexpected turn of events, Meenakshi fell in love with him and started to make amorous advances. Thayumanavar decided that the only way to escape her sexual demands would be to flee to a place that was beyond her jurisdiction. With the help of Arulayya, one of his devotees, he escaped, disguised as a soldier, and eventually moved to Ramanathapuram, where the local raja welcomed him and arranged for him to stay in a quiet place where his meditations would not be disturbed. For some time he lived a very ascetic life there.
Rani Meenakshi ran her kingdom very badly. In 1736 her country was overrun by various invaders and she ended up committing suicide by drinking poison. Siva Chidambaram, Thayumanavar’s elder brother, came in person to tell Thayumanavar that it was safe for him to return home, if he wanted to, since there was no longer any danger of royal revenge. He went back to his ancestral home where he was treated with great reverence by both his family and his community. However, a surprise was in store for him. His family wanted him to marry, and they were backed up by Mauna Guru who told Thayumanavar that it was his destiny to get married and have a child. In obedience to his Guru’s wishes, he married a girl called Mattuvarkuzhali and they eventually had a son whom they named Kanakasabhapati. The marriage did not last long because Mattuvarkuzhali died soon afterwards, leaving Thayumanavar with the responsibility of bringing up a child.
Around this time Mauna Guru visited him again to give him darshan and instructions, one of which was to make a pilgrimage to Chidambaram. During their meeting Thayumanavar went into a deep samadhi that lasted for several days. When he returned to his normal consciousness, he realised that he could no longer fulfil his duties as a householder and a father. He handed over the care of his son to his older brother and left for Chidambaram.
Thayumanavar spent about two months in Chidambaram, mostly immersed in a deep samadhi state. He then embarked on a pilgrimage that took him to several of the sacred places in Tamil Nadu, including Tiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram, Tiruvarur, Madurai and Tiruvotriyur. His final destination was Rameswaram at the southern tip of India. Shortly after his arrival there he made a very public appeal in the temple for God to intervene and end a drought that had severely afflicted that part of the country. An immediate and torrential downpour filled all the tanks and wells. Thayumanavar, who generally shunned publicity as much as possible, found himself being carried in triumph through the streets of Ramanathapuram on a palanquin. He was feted by the local king, the Raja of Ramnad, and even offered a new job as a royal advisor.
Thayumanavar rejected all the royal honours and spent the remainder of his brief life in a small hut, meditating and composing the songs that were to make him famous. His two principal disciples, Arulayya and Kodikkarai Jnani, wrote down the poems and began to sing them in public. They were immediately popular and spread widely even during Thayumanavar’s lifetime.
In January 1742 he withdrew into his hut and left the following message pinned to the outside of the door:
Withdraw the mind from the senses and fix it in meditation. Control the thought-current. Find out the thought-centre and fix yourself there. Then you will be conscious of the divine Self; you will see it dancing in ecstasy. Live in that delight. That delight-consciousness is the God in you. He is in every heart. You need not go anywhere to find Him. Find your own core and feel Him there. Peace, bliss, felicity, health – everything is in you. Trust in the divine in you. Entrust yourself to His Grace. Be as you are. Off with past impressions! He who lives from within an ingathered soul is a real sage, even though he may be a householder. He who allows his mind to wander with the senses is an ignoramus, though he is learned. See as a witness, without the burden of seeing. See the world just as you see a drama. See without attachment. Look within. Look at the inner light unshaken by mental impressions. Then, floods of conscious bliss shall come pouring in and around you from all directions. This is the supreme Knowledge; realise! Aum! Aum!
This was his final message. When Arulayya went in he found that Thayumanavar had left his body. He was given a royal funeral in Ramanathapuram by the local raja, and his songs were sung as his body was interred.
The remainder of this article is divided into several topics, each of which explores some aspect of Thayumanavar’s teachings that Bhagavan referred to while he was responding to questions from visitors.
- Letters and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam
- The Silent Sage, by Dr B. Natarajan, pub. The Himalayan Academy, 1978.