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Gnana-sambandar Nāyanār

Gnana-sambandar
Illustration courtesy of Ramalingar Pani Mandram.
Sivapada Hridayar of Sirkazhi prayed to the Lord for the boon of a son who would re-establish the greatness of Siva devotion in the Tamil land. The Lord heard his prayer and soon his wife bore a radiant male child. When the boy was three years old, Sivapada took him along to the temple tank for morning oblations. While the father did his oblations, the Lord appeared before the boy with Mother Parvathi, encouraging Her to suckle the child. Mother Parvathi gave the boy her milk in a golden chalice, which the Lord blessed with wisdom, and from that moment, the child began to sing hymns in praise of the Lord and was given the appellation, ‘Jnana Sambandar’. The boy began his pilgrimage and in time the Lord blessed him with a palanquin. As he visited each temple town, he was ever enthralled by the sight of the Lord and sang his praise unceasingly. As he travelled, whenever he found devotees in distress, he was moved out of compassion to endeavour to help them by calling on the Lord’s intervention through his decads.

Once, on the night before her wedding, a young maiden cried before the lifeless body of her husband-to-be bitten by a venomous snake. She called out to the Lord in a loud voice: “Oh Lord that shattered the terrible dark form of Yama who came to take away the life of the boy Markandeya, show me Your mercy!” Overhearing her lament, Sambandar came to her aid and sang to the Lord of the matted tresses to rescue her. At the conclusion of the tenth verse, mirculously, the bridegroom stood up alive and well. The grateful maiden fell at the feet of the child-saint, who, instead of making arrangements for a funeral, began instead making arrangements for a marriage.

In his further pilgrimage, Jnana Sambandar met the great Appar and the two journeyed together, visiting the holy kshetras of the South. But one day wise men came to persuade Sambandar to come to Madurai and rescue Saivism from the influence of other religions as even the king there no longer worshipped the Lord. Appar, out of sheer love for the boy, pleaded with him not to go as it was a dangerous mission. But realising his divine nature and the greatness of his task, Appar refrained from discouraging him.

News of Sambandar’s arrival in Madurai reached his opponents who, with the king’s permission, set fire to Sambandar’s camp. But as soon as the saint sang his padikam, the fire turned itself on the king in the form of a dreadful disease. With burning sensations throughout his body, the king’s suffering continued in spite of the best efforts of royal physicians and the court priests. Those concerned knew the true cause of the ailment and so enjoined the king to invite Sambandar to court in order that the king might be cured. Received in court with all honours, Sambanadar approached the king with vibhuti blessed by ceaseless recitations of the Lord’s name.

Singing his padikam, Sambandar spread the ash on the king’s body and immediately the king was restored.The king was grateful and thanked Sambandar but in so doing, earned for Sambandar the further jealousy of the court priests, who maintained that the miracle was only effected through black magic. Thus they would not concede defeat but came forth with a new challenge to test the true virtues of the two respective faiths. They proposed that both parties write the essence of their religions on palm leaves and cast them into the fire. The leaves that suvived would be those of the true religion. But when it was found that only Sambandar’s palm leaves survived the flames, his opponents would still not concede defeat but raised yet a third challenge. This time, each party would cast their scriptures into the river and the leaves which swam against the current, contained the truth. The palm leaves of Sambandar’s opponents washed away in the current, not to be seen again, but Sambandar sang his padikam and all beheld his leaf alone going against the current without sinking. Sambandar then concluded his padikam by invoking the Lord’s grace on the king to cure him of his childhood deformity - he had been a hunchback since birth - and it was so accomplished. The king was thus convinced, and the people followed the king in becoming Saivites. In this way, Sivapada Hridayar’s prayer was answered: through his son, Jnana Samabandar, Saivism was restored in the land.


Reproduced from the July 2012 issue of the Saranagati eNewsletter
published by Sri Ramanasramam. The above text has been freely adapted from editions
of Periapuranam, Siva Bhakta Vilāsam (published by Sri Ramanasramam) and other texts.