Tamil Yoga Siddha Research Project: The Basic Difficulties (Part 4)

by Dr. T. N. Ganapathy, Ph D
Director of the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project

The following article, the fourth and last in a series, is excerpted from our forthcoming book, "The Yoga of Tamil Siddha Boganathar" by Dr. T.N. Ganapathy. In the first article, the basic difficulty, the term "Siddha" itself, was discussed. The present article discusses other difficulties involved in studying the works of the Siddhas.

  1. A trustworthy biographical account

    It is very difficult to give a trustworthy biographical account of the Tamil Siddhas as very little about their lives is known or recorded in history. A verse from the sage Agastya says that most of the Siddha works were lost in the floods (pralaya) and what we have now as Siddha poetry is only a small collection of verses which have been washed ashore and preserved.(85) Based on this verse there is a view that what is being circulated today as Tamil Siddha poetry is only a distortion of the original Siddha poems written by some ordinary human beings.(86) If this is the case, then, one must exercise a great caution in accepting the historical or biographical information provided by the anthologists and other writers on the Tamil Siddhas. The biographical information provided by the various writers is a mixture of life-stories based on tradition, local folk-lore, mythology and sentimental accounts. All these life-sketches are purely legendary. There is no historic proof for such legends; yet one cannot reject them outright, since there must be some basic truth in them, to which additions were made by later generations. No authentic account is available since the history and the biography of the Tamil Siddhas have been handed over from generation to generation in the form of oral transmission giving rise to numerous variations, corruptions, interpolations and, in many cases, distortions to suit one's whims and fancies. It is difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. One is not sure whether there is any grain apart from the chaff. In some of the biographical accounts the imagination of the writers runs riot making it difficult to believe. A real researcher must be like the legendary swan and able to separate the milk from the water.

    The literature of the Tamil Siddhas spans many centuries and it is probable that certain details of the life-history of them are changed, modified, and many times distorted, to suit the ethos, the occasion, the period and the time when they were narrated and recorded. Hence it is not possible to say anything definite about the life, date, i.e., the biography of the Siddhas. To trace the life history of the Tamil Siddhas is as difficult as tracing the path of birds in the sky. Just as boats do not leave any mark on the seas or rivers where they sail, the Siddhas have not left any autobiographical details in their poems. In a number of cases factual information such as dates of birth, or at least the periods in which they lived, the real (original) names of the Siddhas, the villages where they were born, and the castes and religions in which they were born and the places where they lived and attained liberation (samadhi) cannot be obtained. We may assign two reasons for this attitude of the Tamil Siddhas; one, as Mircea Eliade has said: "India is preoccupied with Being; and history, created by becoming, is just one of the forms of non-being".(87) In Karuvurar, a Tamil Siddha and a disciple of Bogar, we get another reason for this. According to him a Siddha is an adept in leaving his body at pleasure and entering into another body.(88) Since this device is adopted by the Siddhas, it is very difficult to identify "who is who", let alone give a biographical account of them.

    According to tradition each Siddha gets five different names, the first one given by the parents and the remaining four are appellations for the stages in the spiritual progress attained by the person concerned. Among these four names is the name given by the guru (the spiritual teacher) at the time he initiated the disciple. Just as it is said in China that the Tao does not have a constant name, the names of the Tamil Siddhas are also not constant. Many names of the Tamil Siddhas are symbolic. They are not family names but names bestowed on a saint when he reaches certain stages of spiritual perfection. These names refer to some transcendental states of consciousness attainable through the practice of kundalini yoga; they are the spiritual appellations given to persons who have attained certain yogic adeptness. The name Agattiyar (The Tamil version of Agastiya) means one who has kindled the inner fire in him; (agam = inner; ti = fire); that is, one who has roused the fire of kundalini in him. Most of the works on Tamil Siddhas refer to sage Agastya as a preceptor of the Tamil Siddha doctrine. In Tamil literature and philosophy there are references not to one but to several Agastyas.(89) Agastya is also called by different names as Kumbamuni, Kalasamuni, Kudamuni, etc. Further in Tamil literature one finds more than one hundred and ninety works in the name of Agastya. Similarly there are more than one Pattinattar mentioned in Tamil literature. Of course, which Pattinattar is a Siddha should be decided on the basis of the poems relevant to Tamil Siddha "doctrine". The recurrence of the same name goes to show that most of the names of the Tamil Siddhas are acquired ones. Once Siddhahood is attained, the saint acquires a new name to show that he is "born" into a "new experience"' and hence has to shed his old name with all its associations and acquire a new name befitting the spiritual level that he has attained. One may safely say that most of the names of the Tamil Siddhas are not historical names, but only of certain abstract yogic principles and are acquired ones.

    We have already noted how the name Agastya refers to one who has kindled the yogic fire of kundalini in him . One who has conquered sex and anger is called Goraksa. "Matsya" means fish. In tantra it stands for senses. Matsyendranath means "one who has mastery over the senses" (indriyas) and stands for one who tears the fetters of bondage. In the same manner one may construe the name Pattinattar as "Patti" plus "nathar", that is, a man who can save the souls. "Patti" in Tamil means " the pound for herding the cattle"; it may also mean, "herding of souls", souls wallowing in darkness. Pattinattar is one who helps and guides these souls by providing a method to get out of the "pound of the world and the senses" and get liberated.Pambatticittar is a name of one Siddha. "Pambu" in Tamil means snake. Snakes are emblems of eternity and the snake skin is supposed to procure invisibility. In the words of Vogel: "The practice of casting its skin suggested longevity or even immortality in the snake".(90) The sloughing indicates the freeing of oneself from evil and liberation from mundane existence. The term "snake" refers to the coiled kundalini. A Siddha who has perfected kundalini yoga and attained immortality is a "Pambatti". There is another Tamil Siddha by name "Kudambai". "Kudambai" in Tamil means ear-ring, and kundalini is coiled like an ear-ring and Kudambaiccittar stands for a kundalini yogin. "Kudambai" stands exactly for what is meant by kan-phata, piercing of the cartileges of the ear. This term is a pan-tantric Indian term referring to the Siddhas. A Siddha who takes the nectar (amrta) secreted at the sahasrara, which is a kamala(lotus) is a Kamala Siddha. The term "idaikkadu" in Tamil refers to the space between the eye-brows. A Siddha who has gone through the middle of the brows, (bhrumadhyaka), and who unites his soul with the cosmic soul is Idaikkattuccittar. A Siddha who has controlled the wavering mind referred to as "agappey" in Tamil. (i.e., the internal ghost), is Agappeyccittar. In Greek, the term "agappe" stands for pure spiritual love. There is a Siddha with the name Kambaliccattaimuni. Probably he acquired the name because he was wearing a wollen upper garment. In this connection it may be said that the name "sufi" was derived from the term "suf" which stands for wool and is applied to these holy men who wore woollen garments and devoted themselves to a life of renunciation. There can be little doubt that woollen dress was associated with spirituality in pre-Islamic times in India.Bogar calls Kambaliccattaimuni as a bear Siddha (Karadiccittar in Tamil). (91) The name Bogar means "one who is enjoying"' that is, one who is enjoying the bliss of immortality. The name Sivavakkiyar is an acquired one and not his original name. Probably he has got this name because he has used "Sivayam" in more than sixty places in his work.

    The above discussion shows that it is very difficult to have an authentic account of the lives of the Tamil Siddhas. Yet one finds certain account of the biographies of the Tamil Siddhas with various details in some works.(92) There is a Tamil work known as Chathuragiriththalapuranam (93) which purports to give a history of the Tamil Siddhas. Except a chapter on "Padinen Siddhas" the other chapters are written in the mythological (puranic) style and descriptions clothed in tradition and folk-lore. In this book there is no authentic account of the lives of the Tamil Siddhas. There is another work in Tamil on Siddhargal Varalaru (94) which contains a brief history, life and works of more than fifty one Tamil Siddhas. Marshall Govindan's book Babaji And the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition (95) gives a brief account of the lives and teachings of Tirumular, Agastya and Bogar. There is a palm-leaf manuscript by name Jnanabodhakam,(96) which is a work on the religious history of the Tamil Siddhas. In Bogar's Janana Sagaram-557 (97) one finds a list of places of the birth of the Tamil Siddhas. (See appendix A) He also admits that since the Siddhas themselves have not revealed their life-stories it is difficult to trace their origin, just as the origin of the rivers and saints (rishis) are difficult to be traced. In spite of this difficulty he has culled out certain facts about them "as far as he knows". (98) It would be of interest to know that Bogar in his Saptakandam ( Bogar 7000) has given the longevity of the Siddhas with their ages. (See appendix B) In the same work one finds a description of the month, star and the caste in which each Siddha was born and also about the parentage. (See appendixes C and D).

    In this connection it would be of interest to note that in the internationally known Raja Serfoji Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur, a town in Tamilnadu, there is a hand-written drawing which contains the pictures of the eighteen Tamil Siddhas indicating their castes and their places where they lived and attained liberation (See Appendix E for a reprint of these pictures). In Chathuragiriththalapuranam, the publisher has included a set of eighteen pictures of the Tamil Siddhas with the names of the places associated with them.(99) In the book Babaji And The 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition one finds the drawings of the figures of the eighteen Tamil Siddhas. (100) One also finds the drawings of the figures of the eighteen Tamil Siddhas in S.A.A.Ramaiah's edition of Bogar Kanda Yogam.(101)

    One interesting feature in the last two books is that Kudambaiccittar is depicted as a woman Siddha.(102) All these drawings are mainly based on the descriptive accounts that one finds in the various life-stories of the Siddhas based on hearsay and tradition. As a researcher in the field of philosophy one is not able to accept or reject all the traditional accounts and the drawings of the Tamil Siddhas, since one does not have adequate evidence to do so. The merit of these accounts can hardly be discussed in the absence of reliable facts. It is unfortunate that the saints in India do not write autobiographies, which could be valuable to all seekers; nor do they leave any record of their activities. They do not do this because they are not interested in their own personality.

    The main difficulty in interpreting the Siddha philosophy is that it is an open system. By "open system" is meant that the questions raised by the Siddhas cannot be put into an "either-or" pattern and their answers cannot be reduced to any one view. As Dhammapada speaks of the arhat we can say of the Siddha that his track is as difficult to know as that of birds in the sky.(103) It is not restricted to a particular group of people; all shades of humanity can participate freely in the Siddha philosophy. This is enshrined clearly in Bogar's works especially in Bogar Saptakandam , where he says that the Siddha philosophy is open to all; Bogar's greatness consists in teaching his philosophy to the Chinese people. Bogar's expression "veliyakkinene" means that he has thrown open the Siddha doctrines to one and all.

    A discussion of the philosophy of the Tamil Siddhas will be incomplete without mentioning their concept of guru and their "arruppadai" concept. The place of the initiator, guru, is an important aspect in the method of Siddhas. According to them kundalini yoga and other esoteric things must be learned from the master-teachers, gurus, only and almost all the Siddhas refer to their tradition of gurus (parampara). In the Chandogya Upanisad, it is said that the gods can give one the knowledge, even knowledge of the atman but only a guru can show one the way (4.14.1). The guru is the primary threshold or the first step in the ascent of the staircase to liberation. The Sanskrit term "guru" is derived from two roots: "gu" meaning darkness and "ru" light. A guru removes the darkness of ignorance or non-truth and leads his pupil towards enlightenment and truth. There is a proverb in Tamil which says that a man who does not have a guru does not know the path (or root) of knowledge (guruvariyan karuvariyan). The Siddhas are actually the worshippers of their guru. This fact distinguishes the followers of the tantric faith from the followers of the Vedic faith who are called devabhaju or the worshippers of the devas. To the Siddhas of Tamilnadu the guru is invisible to the physical eye. The guru is also referred to as sunya (vastness of space or vettaveli) to indicate the spaciousness of freedom (or knowledge) in which the disciple loses himself. Sometimes the guru-parampara (the lineage of the previous gurus) itself stands for the guru: that is, the guru need not necessarily be a living human being. The guru helps the pupil to look and examine, to think and meditate and to practice and realize. The guru, according to the Tamil Siddha tradition, is not a bundle of theories; he is an authority who has lived his thoughts. He is not a mere fount, a wise man, but the drink itself, the man who "knows"- one who has experienced freedom. Tamil Siddha culture is based on diksa or initiation. Since there is no other way of being initiated into the method of yoga, except the practical guidance of the guru , Eliade characterises yoga as "initiatory structure". Seka, abhiseka are other terms that stand for initiation. A better translation of diksa is "empowerment", because in it the teacher carries the pupil in himself, as it were, as the mother bears the embryo in her body and "empowers" the disciple with all his jnana energy. The term "diksa" is a compound of two ideas diyate and ksiyate - giving and weakening, that is, giving or endowing knowledge and weakening or destroying (removing) lower impulses and desires which stand as obstructions, thereby freeing the individual from the phenomenal fetters. Empowerment effects a spiritual rebirth; it means for the individual a total transformation. It is no wonder that Socrates claims that his mission is that of a midwife; for he "delivers" a "new" man and "aids" in the birth of him who "knows". During initiation the individual is given a new name and the initiated is no longer the biological son of his human parents. He has given up all former associations and is "dead" for all practical purposes. He is "reborn" to grow up in a new setting. He has become a dvija, "twice born", that is one who is born anew, namely, as clothed in spiritual body or body of light and knowledge. He is a disciple who with full awareness accepts something on his own.

    In tantric literature there are two processes of initiation called madhura paka and hatha paka (also called mantri and sambhavi respectively). Madhura paka is the usual ritualistic, outer process of initiation; it is a process of elimination of irrelevant elements from one's inner being by a graduated and slow course of regular practices on the basis of the teachings of the guru. Hatha paka is threefold: Sparsi, based upon touch, which tends the disciple in a manner of a bird nourishing its young ones within the warm folds of its wings; caksusi , based upon sight, acts like the fish which bring up their offspring by means of sight alone; manasi , mental, which builds like the tortoise feeding its infant, by only thinking of it. All these three types are referred to by Ganapatidasar.(104) Tayumanavar goes a step froward and suggests that the mere presence of the guru or a sage is enough to initiate a man for liberation. He compares the guru to a ripe plantain fruit in the midst of the cluster of plantain fruits. The very contiguity of the ripe plaintain fruit changes the unripe ones in to ripe fruits. As Kularnava Tantra says: "The form of the guru is the root of dhyana, the lotus-feet of the guru is the root of puja, the word of the guru is the root of the mantra and the grace of the guru is the root of the siddhi". (105)

    The mantra of the Tamil Siddhas "Sivayanama" is not merely a philosophico-mystical concept, but a social one too. "Nama" means tyaga or sacrifice and "Siva" means bliss (ananda). "aya" means outcome or result. The term "Sivayanama" means, "the result of sacrifice is bliss". The Tamil Siddhas felt the bliss in sacrifice and they construed sacrifice as an opportunity to serve. To them service and work begin with one's own self-realization. That is, the social concern of the Tamil Siddhas has provided them with one more path for the discovery of the Self. The mystic experience of the Tamil Siddhas has given a new meaning to social service. The "arruppadai" concept, that we find in Tamil literature, that is, " the concept of directing or showing the path to one and all", irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion or nationality, has acquired a socio-philosophical meaning at the hands of the Tamil Siddhas. It is a concept emphasizing the vow of helping humanity by one's own enlightenment. Their songs are indicators of the path of self-realization for the seeker after truth. The Siddhas wanted everyone to enjoy what they themselves have enjoyed. They have a loving desire to secure the welfare, happiness and solidarity of all beings. As a Sufi mystic tells his hearers that they are ducks being brought up by hens, they have to realize that their destiny is to swim, not try to be chickens. The same is the attitude of the Tamil Siddhas. In Siddha mysticism humanity and not God is the point of reference. The "arruppadai" concept [the method of showing the way] is an expression of the mysticism of the Siddhas in that it is their commitment to humanity to indicate the pathway. This concept of Tamil Siddhas to pass on the torch of spirituality to other men is the highest altruistic action. They sincerely felt that genuine freedom is not in isolation.

    This concept, that is, showing the path to people, has two aspects in the philosophy of the Tamil Siddhas-one positive and the other negative. In the negative aspect the Tamil Siddhas emphasize what one shall not do in order to achieve realization. To achieve self-realization, the mystic anubhava, the Siddhas exhort people not to take rest in halfway houses like caste, scriptures, rituals, ceremonies, pujas, etc. According to the Siddhas, the cause of the prevalence of delusion in our lives is institutional rather than personal. The method of kundalini yoga, their ethical precepts, their system of medicine, above all their simple language intended to convey what they wanted to convey, form the positive aspect of the "arruppadai" concept. The social concern of the Tamil Siddhas is best exhibited in their system of medicine. This is the loka-sangraha of Tamil Siddha mysticism, which is not only an experience of Reality but also a way of living. In short, the Tamil Siddha does not renounce the world; instead he tries to dedicate himself or herself to its upliftment, while enjoying perfect freedom. This social concern of the Tamil Siddhas nullifies the general view of the Western critic about Indian mystics, that they are not devoted in seeking unselfishly the welfare of others. The Siddha philosophy, with its social attitudes as well as its spirituality, may constitute a new and genuine humanism on a world scale leading all living beings to live in a world of brotherhood as a big universal family a vasudeiva kutumbakam, a family of Lord Vasudeva, the Almighty.

Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 3
Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 2
Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 1

Copyright. Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications. 2002


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