I am still continuing with my journey of Appar’s Tevaram and after last week’s joyful reading of his song on animals and birds in pairs, I chanced upon this beauty which describes Shiva in numbers ranging from one to ten. Unlike many of his other works, this is not dedicated to a particular temple and comes under the head of podu/பொது or general works.

The Ten-Headed Ravana tries to lift Kailasa, Ellora

The description goes like this –

  1. Onru kolaam avar paatham…

One of its kind is His heart, elevated like the Himalaya

One of its kind is the Moon’s fortune that it adorned Him,

One of its kind is the skull that His arms hold for alms,

One of its kind is the bull on which He goes around

2. Irandu kolaam imaiyor thozhu paatham…

Two are His feet worshipped by the Gods,

Two are the ornaments on His ears1

Two is He as man and woman,

Two – axe and deer – He bears in His arms

(1Lord Shiva wears a stud in one ear and a ring in the other. These are the Gandharva-s Ashwadhara and Kambaladhara)

3. Moonru kolaam avar kann nuthal aavana…

Three are His eyes,

Three are the tips of His weapon,

Three -a bow, its string and arrow2– he used on

Three cities which He destroyed

(2As Tripurasamhara, Shiva used Meru as the bow, Vasuki as its string and Vishnu as the arrow)

4. Naalu kolaam avar tam mukam aavana…

Four are His faces3,

Four are the kinds of birth4 in His creation,

Four are the feet of His mount,

Four are the Vedas that sing of His feet

( 3 While Shiva is usually considered to be five-faced, the Tevaram and the Tiruvacakam frequently refer to his four faces

4 There are four kinds of birth – uterine, egg, sweat and earth – these are qualified as jarayuja, andaja, svedaja and udbija – the ancients give examples for each -respectively mammals, birds, insects (I don’t think this is a scientific observation) and plants)

5. Anju kolaam avar aadaravin padam…

Five are the hoods of His snake,

Five are the senses He conquered5,

Five were the arrows of the deity He defeated6,

Five are the unguents used in His anointing7

(5The five senses are sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch

6 This refers to Shiva as Kamadahana. The God of Love has five arrows in his quiver and these are the five flowers – Lotus, Mango, Ashoka (saraca asoca), Mullai (jasmine) and Karumkuvalai (blue lily)

7The five unguents refers to Panchagavya – milk, curd, ghee, cow’s urine and cow dung)

6. Aru kolaam avar angam padaithana …

Six are the aspects of the Vedas He created8,

Six are the faces of His son9,

Six are the feet of the bee that loses itself in His garlands10,

Six are the tastes that He created11,

(8The six Vedangas or limbs of the Vedas are Siksha, Chandas, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Kalpa and Jyotisha

9 Shiva’s son Murugan or Karthikeya has six faces

10 The bees are depicted here as losing themselves in the garlands of Shiva. In Tamil poetry Vandu Vidu Thoothu or sending of message to the Lord via a bee is common and the verses often have a warning to the insects not to lose themselves in the garlands of the deity. In Srisailam, the Goddess Herself is Bhramaramba – a bee that worships the Lord

11 The six tastes – sweet, salt, bitter, sour, pungent and astringent)

7. Ezhu kolaam avar oozhi padaithana…

Seven are His creations12,

Seven are the oceans He fashioned13,

Seven are the worlds He rules over14,

Seven are the notes He produced for music15,

(12The seven types of creations are the stationary, the aquatic, the crawling, the walking (non human), the flying, the humans and the Gods

13The seven mythical oceans are the saltwater, honey, curd, milk, ghee, sugarcane juice and plain water

14 While the common references are to 14 worlds, Appar appears to refer only to the seven that are the earth and above – Bhu, Bhuvar, Suvar, Maha, Jana, Tapa and Satya lokas

15 The seven notes today would be Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni but in Appar’s times they would have been Kural, Thuttam, Kaikkilai, Uzhai, Ili, Vilari and Taram)

8. Ettu kolaam avar eeril perungunam…

Eight are the qualities He possesses16

Eight are the flowers He adorns17

Eight are His shoulders18

Eight are the directions He created

(16 I have tried to read up on what the eight qualities are and these are not the Ashta Maha Siddhis. In Sanskritic texts the eight manifestations are Bhava, Sharva, Isana, Pasupata, Rudra, Ugra, Bhima and Mahata. There is a more detailed explanation for each of the names but I am skipping that

17 The eight flowers are Punnai (Alexandrian Laurel), White Arka (sodom apple), Champaka (Magnolia), Nandyavattam (Pinwheel), Kuvalai (Blue Lily), Padiri (this has a longish Latin name but it is quite common in Tamil Nadu and has pinkish flowers), Alari (Oleander) and Tamarai (Lotus)

18 Shiva is often described in Tevaram as eight-shouldered, in keeping with four faces)

9. Onbathu pol avar vaasal vaguthana…

Nine are the openings of the bodies He created

Nine are the strands in His sacred thread

Nine are the locks of hair that radiate from Him

Nine are the divisions over which He rules20

(I am not sure as to what this is but it could be the nine parts of ancient jambudvipa -Bharata, Kimpurusha, Kuru, Ilavrita, Ketumala, Hari, Hiranyaka, Ramyaka and Bhadrashva)

10. Pathukolaam avar paambin kann paambin pal…

Ten are the eyes and teeth of His snake21

Ten are its fangs

Ten the heads injured by Him22

Ten the attributes of His devotees23

( This is in keeping with the 5th verse where the snake is depicted with five hoods

The ten heads refer to Ravana and his attempt to lift Kailasa. Invariably, the last in each of Appar’s decads carries a reference to this episode

The ten attributes of Shaivaite devotees – wearing of sacred ash and rudraksha, singing His praise, chanting His name, worshipping Him, performing deeds that please Him, listening to His deeds, performing pilgrimage to His shrines, offering respect to His devotees, giving what they want, not eating anywhere other than at the homes of Shiva’s devotees. There are also apparently ten more – to have a lump in the throat on hearing of Him, tongue cleaving to palate, lips quivering, trembling all over, experiencing horripilation, sweating, be devoid of speech, to weep, to lament and to forget oneself. It is interesting that much of these attributes were experienced by Navukkarasar/Appar himself.)

There is a theory that this was the set of verses that he composed at Thingalur to cure Appudi Adigal’s son of snakebite. The repeated references to snakes are held as evidence of this. But some of the books I consulted do not mention this.

The usage of numerals is nevertheless fascinating and it is therefore apt that this set is also known as the Arputha (Wondrous) Pathigam (Decad).

In my translation of this, I have used among others the following as references –

Va Tha Ramasubramaniam, Thirunavukkarasu Swamigal Thevaram moolamum telivuraiyum Vol 1, Varthamanan Pathippagam, Chennai, 2003