Periya Puranam

Periya Puranam (பெரிய புராணம்) is the 12th Thirumurai of the great Twelve Thirumuraigal. This great purana  is also called Thiruthondarpuranam (the purana of the holy devotees). It is a Tamil poetic account depicting the legendary lives of the sixty-three Nayamars of Shaivism. It was compiled during the 12th century by Sekkizhar Peruman. The Periya Puranam is part of the corpus of Shaiva canonical works. The Sundarar’s Thiruthondatthogai which is the base for the Periya Puranam is a part of 7th Thirumurai and it is called the “Thogai Nool” (தொகை நூல்). Then the great saint Nambiyandar Nambi of Thirunarayoor, the blessed one by Pollapillaiyar, made the “Thiruthondar Thiruvandhadhi”. This is a classified form of the puranas of the sivan adiyars of the Sundara’s Thiruthondatthogai. This is called the “Vagai Nool”( வகை நூல்). The Thiruthondatthogai is a padigham consisting of 11 songs, later developed by Sekkizhar as 13 Sarukkams (parts) in Periya Puranam. And this Periya Puranam the detailed version all the puranams is called the “Viri Nool” (விரி நூல்).

Sekkizhar compiled and wrote the Periya Puranam or the Great Thiruthondarpuranam (the life stories of the sixty-three Shaiva Nayanars), who composed the liturgical poems of the Thirumurai, and was later himself canonized and the work became part of the sacred canon. Among all the hagiographic Puranas in Tamil, Sekkizhar's Thiruthondarpuranam or Periyapuranam, composed during the rule of Anabhaya Cholan stands first.

Sekkizhar was a poet and the chief minister in the court of the Chola King, Anabhaya Cholan. Anabhaya Cholan was a staunch devotee of Lord Siva Nataraja at Chidambaram. He continued the reconstruction of the center of Tamil Shaivism that was begun by his ancestors. However Anabhaya Cholan was also enchanted by the Jain courtly epic, Jivaka Cintamani an epic of erotic flavor (sringara rasa). The study of Jivaka Cintamani, by Anabhaya Cholan, deeply affected Sekkizhar, who was very religious in nature. He exhorted the king to abandon the pursuit of impious erotic literature and turn instead to the life of the Shaiva saints sung by Sundaramurti Nayanar and Nambiyandar Nambi. The king thereupon invited Sekkizhar to expound the lives of the Shaiva saints in a great poem. In order to wean Anabhaya Cholan from the heretical Jivaka Cintamani,

Sekkizhar undertook the task of writing the Periyapuranam. As a minister of the state Sekkizhar had access to the lives of the saints and after he collected the data, he wrote the poem in the Thousand Pillared Hall of the Chidambaram temple. Legend has it that the Lord himself provided Sekkizhar with the first word of the first verse as a divine voice from the sky declaring "உலகெலாம்" (ulakelam: The entire world). The Periya Puranam was first recited by Sekkizhar himself in the Chidambaram thousand pillared hall, before many poets and scholars of the time. He started the recitation on a “Chittirai Thiruvadirai” day of a year and completed it on the same day of next year. The King and the scholars are very much impressed by the great work of Sekkizhar. They were drowned in the seamless sweet of the Puranam. Then the great Puranam was taken over the Cholan’s Royal Elephant with Sekkizhar also on the ride and the Cholan blowing the Vensamaram (fan used for kings) for the Sekkizhar himself. The Puranam was taken before the Lord Nataraja of the Chidambaram golden Sabhai and the metallic version of the Periya Puranam is announced as the 12th Thirumurai joining the rest of the 11 Thirumurais.

This work is considered the most important initiative of Anabhaya Cholan’s reign. This is a literary embellishment of earlier hagiographies of the Shaiva saints composed by Sundarar and Nambiyandar Nambi. The Periyapuranam is considered as a veritable fifth Veda in Tamil and immediately took its place as the twelfth and the last book in the Shaiva Thirumurai. It is considered as one of the masterpieces of the Tamil literature.

All the saints mentioned in this epic poem are historical persons and not mythical. Therefore, this is a recorded history of the 63 Shaiva saints called as Nayanmars (devotees of Lord Siva), who attain salvation by their unflinching devotion to Lord Shiva. The Nayanmars that he talks about, belonged to different castes, different occupations and lived in different times.

If one wants to know what devotion is, what will be the actions and state of devotees, and want to dwell in the great nectar of love, the best place to go is Periya Puranam. If you want to feel the great heights that love for the Lord, who is the pure form of love, can take and read the Periya Puranam not just for the sake of reading, but by getting yourself to know the state of the Nayanmars. Even for a person who never ever tasted the honey of devotion, it should give a great experience. If a person does not get bhakthi even after reading Periya Puranam you can for sure say that involvement was missing from his/her part.

Exclaiming the value of Periya Puranam king Anabhaya Cholan took Sekkizhar peruman on the royal elephant and he himself fanned Sekkizhar with Venchamaram in that big procession. What other praise is required when God Himself gave the starting word for the Periyapuranam as Ulakelam.
It is nectar that will give you the immortal love, drink it.
It is a perennial river of love that will make the lands of your mind fertile, irrigate with it.
It is an ocean that will get you pearl heaps of coveted qualities, dwell in it.
It is a sharp sword that will cut off the bonds to make you feel the bliss of freedom, hold it strong.
It is a teacher that tells morals of life; make yourself a rock of discipline.
It is a historical information resource; develop your knowledge with that.

Sekkizhar had the true knowledge, he had the best of poetic expression, he had the neutrality in his sayings, he had the devotion for the 63 devotees, and above all he had the true love for God. Though only Sekkizhar can match himself, this is an effort to give a glimpse of that wonderland called Periyapuranam. If it creates an interest in you to read the original text of Sekkizhar, then it has served the purpose. If it serves to remind people, who read Periya Puranam or knew about the 63 saints, about their great deeds, it has found the use that is intended.

If you find this effort good, it is naturally due to the fact that it is just a taste of the non saturating sweet, Periyapuranam. If there are flaws that is due to my lack of knowledge in this effort and you can be quite sure that Periya Puranam will be marvelous and look for an opportunity to read it yourself. Please note that this is not a translation so only the theme will be same as in Periya Puranam. This effort absolutely cannot magnify the glory of Periyapuranam, but let the Lord and His devotees out of their love bear with and correct the flaws in it.

For the people who do not know Tamil but would like to know about the peerless 63 saints (this should give a taste of that nectar) -----  Stories of Nayanmars as in Periyapuranam