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
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.