Lord Skanda-Murugan

Tirumurukarruppatai's place in the Saiva Canon

Lord Muruga frees Nakeerar and captives
At that moment Nakkirar begs Lord Murukan to release them all and composes Tirumurukārruppatai. Immediately the Lord appears, kills the giant and releases all the prisoners.
Tirupparankundram gopuram and hill
Tirupparankundram gopuram and hill

by Ponnaih Jeyālaki Arunagirinathan
presented at the Second Interntional Conference Seminar on Skanda-Murukan

Tirumurukārruppatai by Nakkirar is one of the most important works of Cankam literature. It is the first poem of the Pattupattu anthology, one of the Cankam works. Tirumurukārruppatai is also called Pulavararuppatai.1 During the early Cankam period bards and poets would go from court to court singing praise of kings and chieftains and would receive reward. When these poets met one another, one would advise the other to visit a certain king or chieftain to become rich. This process was called arrupatai or "recommendations on the road". Belonging to the same category, Tirumurukārruppatai or 'Guide to Lord Murukan' suggests that those who need spiritual guidance should seek out Lord Murukan. It is believed that this was the first anthology-poem that points to Skanda (kantan in Tamil) worship of that time. Tirumurukārruppatai later included in the Eleventh Tirumurai has one of the most important Cankam works; it may have been composed 5th and 6th centuries.2

Later around 10th century Tirumurukārruppatai has been included in the Tirumurai by the Tirumurai compiler Nampiyantar Nampi. One could ask why did Nampi include Tirumurukārruppatai in the Eleventh Tirumurai? The answer is twofold: firstly when Nampi divided Tirumurai into twelve books, Tirumurai1-10 have been organised according to authors and their works. The twelfth Tirumurai has also been included without any difficulty due to its single authorship. The Eleventh Tirumurai as a collection of miscellaneous poems and hymns by various poets and saints remains problematic. Nampi included most of the poems and hymns he thought important for Saivas. In this category Tirumurukārruppatai is one of the most important bhakti poems and a daily liturgy, which is sung by almost every Tamil Saivite to this day.

Secondly Tirumurukārruppatai is also in accord with other Tirumurai in several respects. As FranVois Gros has suggested, the Tirumurai hymns have three main characteristics that are also similar to Tirumurukārruppatai.3 Firstly, like Tirumurai hymns Tirumurukārruppatai is lyrical, narrative, philosophical and theological in its approach, which helps to spread Muruka bhakti in particular as the faith of all Saivas. Secondly, Tirumurukārruppatai like Tirumurai also portrays a state of religious feeling marked by a supreme effort to attain direct communion with Lord Murukan. Thirdly, Tirumurukārruppatai is also closely associated with the concept of pilgrimage. These can be analysed as follows.

In order to clarify the matter it is important to ask why Tirumurukārruppatai became one of the most significant poems among Tamil Saivaites. To understand the concept it is also important to realise the circumstances in which the poem has been composed. It has been said that Nakkirar was the chief poet of the later Cankam, the 'Academy of the Tamils' and became arrogant and proud of his knowledge. To teach him a lesson Lord Śiva takes as a form of a poet and comes to Madurai. He recites a poem in front of all the Cankam poets. Nakkirar finds a fault in the poem. While he argues about the fault the Lord shows his actual form, yet Nakkirar says even if it is the Lord's poem, the fault remains. In anger the Lord opens his third eye and burns Nakkirar.

After that Nakkirar realises his fault and begs pardon from the Lord. The Lord commands Nakkirar to go on a pilgrimage. As requested, Nakkirar goes on a pilgrimage, but on his way he is captured by a giant and put into prison. While he is in prison he realises there are altogether 99 people there already and they are all going to be eaten by the giant the very next day. According to the story the giant intends to wait until his cave is filled with one hundred humans and will eat them all at once. Since Nakkirar is the one-hundreth in the giant's order, all the others are distressed and think they are going to die soon. They blame Nakkirar for being the last person and being the cause of their death. At that moment Nakkirar begs the Lord Murukan to release them all and composes Tirumurukārruppatai. Immediately the Lord appears, kills the giant and releases all the prisoners.

From this period onwards Tirumurukārruppatai has been considered as a hymn for protection for the devotees. For this reason alone the poem became a daily liturgy. This was probably one of the reasons why Nampi gave priority to Tirumurukārruppatai and included it in the Eleventh Tirumurai. Like the Nayanmar and their direct communion with Lord Śiva, Nakkirar also had a direct communion with Lord Murukan and thereby attained spiritual experiences during the period of his life. The whole experience has been expressed in Tirumurukārruppatai with due regard to Muruka bhakti and remains as one of the means of realising the Lord.

Secondly certain aspects which are common to Tirumurai hymns also made Nampi include Tirumurukārruppatai in the Eleventh Tirumurai. As mentioned above Tirumurukārruppatai can be lyrical, narrative, philosophical and theological in its approach. Tirumurukārruppatai has been written in the metre called aciriyappa and is 317 lines in length. The subject matter is the splendour of Murukan and his abodes: the Arupatai Vitu or the six armories of Murukan. It seems that the entire philosophy behind this poem is to motivate devotees towards the feet of Murukan. This philosophy then leads to a theological conclusion that, if the devotees wish to obtain salvation, they should visit his holy shrines.

The poem also mentions that he is the supreme Lord, the bright one, the Lord of the six armories 4 but he also stays where his devotees worship him with devotion.5 He is the Lord of the forest, hills and the waterfalls.6 He also resides in halls, village junctions and in a post (which planted in village temples) which is called kantu. Kantu was later identified to kattuttari, which means a post where elephants are tied. Siddhantins argue that in the same manner the Lord ties the ignorance of the souls to the kantu and removes their taints in order to be united with Him. He who ties the souls to a kantu was later known as Kantan and also addressed as Skanda. In this way one could see the Saivite philosophy of the soul's unity with the Lord and thereby its salvation.

Secondly, like Tirumurai hymns, Tirumurukārruppatai portrays a sense of mysticism. It has been mentioned in Tirumurukārruppatai that if one recites Nakkirar's composition, the great Murukan will appear, remove one's heartache and grant all the whatever wishes one desires.7 Even though there are references, which portray a state of religious feeling, the lines above remain fine examples for the direct communion with Lord Murukan.

Finally, by beckoning devotees to visit the Arupatai Vitu or six armouries of Murukan, Nakkirar brings Tirumurukārruppatai closer to the Tirumurai concept of pilgrimage. Arupatai Vitukal are mentioned in Tirumurukārruppatai in the form of six pilgrim places: Tirupparankunram, Tirucciralaivai, Tiruvavinankudi, Tiruverakam, Kunrutoradal and Palamutircolai. The inspiring landscapes and puranic associations of these places as told by Nakkirar show devotees the significance of these sites. As mentioned by Peterson with regards to pilgrimage in Tirumurai, this poem also succeeded in showing the Tamil country as a unified sacred geographical space.8 The journey to sacred places is shown to be of central importance in Tamil Saivism. This is a further reason for Tirumurukārruppatai's inclusion in the Eleventh Tirumurai.

Furthermore, Tirumurukārruppatai is a bhakti poem and fits perfectly with the ideology if bhakti. Within the path of bhakti there is no distinction amongst devotees. The Lord never showed any differences according to their status. The bhakti marga allowed devotees from all castes to participate (Skt. bhakti means 'participation'). Nayanmar and their lives are good examples of this ideology.

In the same way in Tirumurukārruppatai, Lord Murukan never discriminated between his devotees. In Tiruverakam he looks after the twice-born Brahmins and their rituals.9 In Kunrutoradal he remains the patron god of the tribal people, the Kuravas.10 It has been said that in Tiruttontar Puranam Lord Śiva accepts non-vegetarian dishes from Kannappa Nayanar.11 In this case sincere love between the Lord and the devotee illustrate the bhakti ideology of dialogue.12 In the same way in Tirumurukārruppatai the Lord accepts non-vegetarian dishes from tribal people as an offering of their devotion. One could clearly observe and say that the same ideology, which rules the Tirumurai tradition is no different from the tradition of Tirumurukārruppatai.

Clearly, Tirumurukārruppatai plays a vital part in the Eleventh Tirumurai. It is mainly a collection of poems to Lord Śiva, but Tirumurukārruppatai is a poem exclusively to Lord Murukan. The way in which Nakkirar composed Tirumurukārruppatai is similar to the Nayanmars' Tirumurai compositions. Both are identical in the ways of illustrating religious philosophy of souls achieving reality. When souls realise the purpose of their existence and remove their ignorance, they are united with the supreme Reality, which state is called liberation or moksha. By sketching this philosophy Tirumurukārruppatai recalls the Tirumurai philosophy. Secondly, Tirumurukārruppatai's mysticism is no different from the mystic concept explained as direct communion with the Lord. Thirdly, Tirumurukārruppatai's concept of pilgrimage consolidates the Tirumurai's vital issue of pilgrimage. Finally, the ideology of bhakti in Tirumurai is also established in the Tirumurukārruppatai as a common phenomenon. All these seem the most significant themes, which give a prominent place to Tirumurukārruppatai in the Eleventh Tirumurai.

It is also appropriate to comment on the diction and the style of Tirumurukārruppatai. When most of the Tirumurai were composed, propagandists labeled the period as a 'dark age'. Tamil Nadu was suffering from the influences of heterodox movements such as Buddhism and Jainism. Nayanmar felt the need for unity amongst Tamils to consolidate Saivism and this attitude is very much reflected in their hymns. In contrast, in Tirumurukārruppatai one cannot feel this tension because it has been written well before the time of religious disturbances. Thus Tirumurukārruppatai, besides talking about splendours of Murukan and his holy shrines, also depicts a sense of harmony for Saivites in Tamil Nadu. In this manner one could suggest that Tirumurukārruppatai is different from Tirumurai hymns.

For Tamil Saivism the Tirumurai helps to maintain cultural identity and help devotees to attain the final goal: mukti or moksha. The same notion unites Tirumurukārruppatai as part of the Tirumurai custom and gives it a crucial place in the Eleventh Tirumurai. The messages, which are related in Tirumurukārruppatai, are no different from Tirumurai hymns. Its distinctive nature and the important message it relates are the major reasons for its inclusion in the Eleventh Tirumurai.


  1. Tirumurukārruppatai Uraikkottu Tiruppanantal publication pp. iii
  2. Scholars pointed out that Nakkirar was the chief poet of the later Cankam but scholars have given the date of later Cankam variously. In Panniru Tirumuraikal (Vartamanan publication p. 331, Peruntevapani line 24), which was also composed by Nakkirar, he says to Lord Śiva 'you graced the pey' namely Karriaikkal Ammaiyar and her period has been given as the 5th century.
  3. Francois Gros. Tirunavukkarasu Tevaram, Institute of French Studies, Pondicherry, 1984 p. 8
  4. Tirumurukārruppatai lines 77-189 have been dedicated to the Arupatai Vitu.
  5. Tirumurukārruppatai line 221.
  6. Tirumurukārruppatai line 249.
  7. Tirumurukārruppatai supplementary venpa 10.
  8. Peterson. Indra – "Pilgrimage as Metaphor and Motif in the Tevaram songs of the Tamil Saivite saints" Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 101.2, 1982.
  9. Tirumurukārruppatai lines 183-189.
  10. Tirumurukārruppatai lines 194-197.
  11. The Lord accepts the offerings given in ignorance by Kannappa, but reveals His suffering to teach Kannappa that ahimsa offerings are more acceptable but in the same way the tribal people offer non-vegetarian dishes to Lord Murukan and he accepts them as an offering to their simple devotion.
  12. By "dialogue" I mean the two-way sharing that is at the heart of bhakti (from bhaj, 'share' and 'participate').


  1. Chelliah J.V. Pattupattu, General publishers Ltd., Colombo, 1947.
  2. Hart, George. The Poems of Ancient Tamil: Their Milieu and their Sanskrit Counterparts. University of California Press, 1975.
  3. Francois Gros. Tirunavukkarasu Tevaram Institute of French Studies, Pondicherry, 1984.
  4. Panniru Tirumuraikal (Mulamum Telivuraiyum) Varthamanan Patipakam, 1998.
  5. 'Patinoran Tirumurai' Śrī Kasi Matam Publication/ Tiruppananttal /1963.
  6. Peterson Indra. Poems to Śiva Motilal Banarsidas Publishers, Delhi, 1991.
  7. Peterson Indra. "Pilgrimage as Metaphor and Motif in the Tevaram Songs of the Tamil Saivaite Saints" Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 101.2, 1982.
  8. Shanmugam Pillai. "Murukan in Cankam Literature: Veriyattu Tribal Worship", Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, March 1999.
  9. Tirumurukārruppatai Uraikkottu, Śrī Kasi Madam Publication, Tiruppanantal, 1993.
  10. Turner Victor and Edith Turner. "Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture" Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

Jeyālaki Arunagirinathan can be contacted at: JArunagirinathan@tower.ac.uk.