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Book Review: "Thirumandiram: A Classic of Yoga and Tantra"

by Georg Feuerstein, Ph D

(Reprinted from the March-April 1996 issue of "The Yoga Journal"

"Thirumandiram" by Siddhar Thirumoolar, translated with notes by B. Natarajan, edited by M. Govindan. Published by Kriya Yoga Publications, 196 Mountain Road, Eastman, Quebec, Canada J0E 1P0

" All serious yoga students are familiar with the Bhagavad Gita ("Lord's Song") and the Yoga Sutras ("Aphorisms of Yoga"), which are yoga classics written in Sanskrit, the sacred language of the brahmins. Few Western students, however, are aware that there are a number of extraordinary traditionalworks on yoga that are composed in languages other than Sanskrit. Oneof these scriptures is Thirumoolar's Thirumandiram ("Sacred Word"). Composed in the Tamil language,it was authored in the sixth or seventh century C.E., though some authorities place it earlier.

The Thirumandiram, which consists of 3,047 melodious verses, captures the essential teachings of siddha yoga, or the yoga of the perfected adepts. This is the yogic path of the Shaiva Siddhanta tradition flourishing in south India. As the name indicates, the Shaiva Siddhanta tradition revolves around the worship of the Divine in the form of Shiva. The name Shiva means "He who is Benevolent", and the adjective shaiva means "relating to Shiva". the Sanskrit word siddhantha means "philosophical doctrine" or "accomplished teaching." Who was Thirumoolar, the saintly author of the Thirumandiram? Tradition recalls that he was a lowly cowherd who tended his cattle inthe hills of south India and who filled his lonely days with a burning love for the Divine. His spiritual passion to merge with Shiva in mystical union in due course turned him into a venerated sage. thirumoolar was, in fact, one of the earliest Shiva-worshipping adepts of the south. He achieved no particular fame during his lifetime, but, as is often the case with the saintly, his greatness was increasingly recognized after his death. Several centurieslater, his masterful work was incorporated into the Shaiva canon, and today he is remembered as one of south India's greatest yoga adepts.

His Thirumandiram sparkles with original wisdom and shows a rare knowledge of the secrets of siddha yoga. He writes about the Divine (in the form of the god Shiva), the power of love and devotion, the efficacy of mantras, the connection between breath and mind, higher visions, ultimate God-realization, and not least the serpent power (kundalani-shakti) and the esoteric structures of the subtle body. While much of the information given can be found scattered in the Sanskrit scriptures as well, in the Thirumandiram it is imparted with a lively immediacy that is absent from more abstract works like the Sanskrit tantras or the philosophical writings ofnorthern Shaivism. For example:

All the world may well attain the bliss
I have received,
If the name of the Lord chanted by
the great ones is repeated,
Within the heart will arise a thrilling
unstruck sound
Which, when practised, will lead to
Time was when Idespised the body;
But then I saw the God within
An the body, I realised, is the Lord's temple
And so I began preserving it
With care infinite'.(725)

Dr. Natarajan embarked on his English rendering in the late 1970's, but only a portion of it was published in India. the present "international" edition, published posthumously by Marshall Govindan, for the first time offers Dr. Natarajan's complete translation.

In the present edition, each of the more than 3,000 verses is numbered and givena caption that conveniently allows the reader to quickly take in their purport. The English rendering tries to capture not only the deep meaning of the original but also something of its poetic spirit, though on this score the translator is not as successful. Most, if not all, of Thirumoolar's ideas can be found in other Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures. But he communicates them in a kind of inspired vividness and beauty that spring from direct personal experience, and he seeks to instill the same experience in others. Thus the Thirumandiram is as important a yoga scripture as the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras or the voluminous and inspiring Vasishtha. This outstanding text is now available in a fine three-volume edition thanks to the Marshall Govindan's labor of love."

Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D, is a contributing editor of Yoga Journal and author of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sacred Paths, and over 20 other books. His most recent (coauthored) book is "In Search of the Cradle of Civilization", published by Quest Books. His organization, the Yoga Research and Education Center, Santa Rosa, California, co-sponsors the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project along with Babaji's Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas.

Copyright: Georg Feuerstein. 1996. All rights reserved.


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