As always, one of my meandering web-foraging along the intersection of religion and language brought me across a sort of an extract from Rev. G.U. Pope’s musings on the Periya Puranam (here: http://www.shaivam.org/english/sen-life-and-legends-of-sundarar.htm)
The subject of his note was saint Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. It is a bit of a read, but a condensate of his note is this: Rev. Pope is semi-revulsed that among the canon of the Shaiva sect saints, Sundaramoorthy alone seems to think, see and do unsightly and unseemly acts, and more galling-ly with the complete approbation of the Lord, and get away with it all the time.
Before we get into the ‘imperfect’ Sundaramoorthy, a little context about Rev. Pope: George Uglow Pope would have been unremarkable among the scores of his compatriots who came to South India to uplift the pagans, but for his love for the Tamizh language. So enamored was he of the language that he delved deep into even old Saiva texts such as Tiruvasagam, despite his missionary mandate, and translated volumes of Tamizh texts into English. His contribution to Tamizh remains unparalleled even to this day.
But it is of no surprise, given his evangelical Christian background, it would seem odd to Rev. Pope to have read about Sundaran’s shenanigans. I mean, how can a dashing playboy, who abuses and cusses the Lord at the drop of a hat, be a favored saint? How can a saint desire to be the paramour of a devout lady, and get the Lord himself to be a go-between? Wasn’t he punished by being blinded and inflicted by leprosy? And yet he is welcomed at the gates of Kailasa itself with a royal retinue. I can only try and imagine his irritation when he wrote: “ He was addicted to pleasure, - an accomplished courtieur, and man of the world. There seems indeed nothing whatever of the ascetic about him from first to last.”
When we do compare him with the other three: Sambandar was a child of the Lord himself, blessed with divinity from the beginning; Appar was put through the trials of a lifetime, all because he joined a different religion; I am actually abashed to even write about the piety of Manikkavasagar. So how could Sundaran be slotted with this holy trinity?
The beauty of Hindu mythology is that our divinity graces and protects gives space for all shades of characters - from blood sucking asuras at one end to extraordinarily pure mahatmas. And it also features such mortals like Sundaran - a character who is absolutely not evil, and yet is no saint either. He lies, fights, cusses, throws temper tantrums (such a tantrum that he broke Nandi’s ear in Venpakkam), abuses, loves and chides as much as we do - and yet he too gets the mukti that the others get (in fact in far more pomp and ceremony).
I have no qualms in calling him Sundaran (without the respectful ‘r’ suffix), and yet Sundaran is special among all, in that he offers hope to us regular folks - I can be as human and flawed as possible, and yet with faith and devotion, I too can attain the salvation desired by all. Yes, all one needs is unfailing faith that He remains with me as a bulwark against all that is thrown at me, give me what I need to be given, look past all my ills, prevent me from committing more and ultimately rescue me and take me with Him.
Sure, all we need is THAT kind of devotion - but where would I go shopping for it? That’s for another day.
பொன்னும் மெய்ப்பொரு ளும்தரு வானைப்
போக மும்திரு வும்புணர்ப் பானைப்
பின்னை என்பிழை யைப்பொறுப் பானைப்
பிழையெ லாந்தவி ரப்பணிப் பானை
இன்ன தன்மையன் என்றறி வொண்ணா
எம்மா னைஎளி வந்தபி ரானை
அன்னம்வை கும்வ யற்பழ னத்தணி
ஆரூ ரானை மறக்கலு மாமே
—- Tiruvarur, 7th Tirumurai, Decad 59
is it possible to forget?
Civaṉ who grants riches and knowledge of reality.
who united in me through them the pleasures of the world and eternal bliss.
who forgives all my faults after that.
who grants his grace so that I cannot commit any faults.
our master whose nature cannot be ascertained, this is his nature.
who was easily accessible to me.
and who is ārūr which has fields in which swans stay, and tanks.