Siddhar Way of Life
In the history of Tamil Nadu and Tamil People, the Siddhars occupy and important place. They see divinity in the formless soul that pervades the whole world. They live at all times in all countries. They are not bound by religion or rituals. They have great ability for social service. This state or experience is the same for Siddhar of any country. In this experience there is no interference from the boundaries of time, country, religion, language or anything else. Thus they transcend all boundaries and may be said to be truly universal.
Siddhar – Definition
There are various meanings given for the world Siddhar. Though this word does not seem to have been prevalent among the Sangam Tamils, the siddhars have been referred to by the term nirai moli mantar (people of eminent, knowledgeable words). When the Silappathigaram was composed some changes had occurred. During that the word Siddhar was used for Sivan. Arhat (Jainism) and those who performs their duties. 2 Bhaki literature referes to Sivan and Murukan as Siddhar. 3 Tamil Literature reveals that this term denotes those who have overcome the feelings of I and Mine, renounced desires, attained the state of caayucciyam, prevent the collection / continuation of Kama, those who practice pranayamam in the correct manner and those who worship Vaalai. Some works by Siddhars explain who the Siddhars are. One’s Kama follows him through repearted births. This is called Vaacanai (eg. Predisposition in the present birth due to the soul’s experiences in the previous births). One who can stop this vacanai from manifesting itself is a nyaani; such a person is a Siddhar. This is the definition given by Cattaimuni.
Characteristics of the Siddhar
It is generally believed that the Siddhars differ from the ordinary people in behavior, dress and thoughts. The TiruvilaiyaadalPuraanam which sings of the c=various divine sports of Siva, contains a section called Ellaam Valla Cittaraana Padalam, which means the chapter on Sivan appearing as the all-powerful Siddhar. It describes the winning appearance of Siva, the Supreme Siddhan. His matted hair, the sacred thread of triple stands on His chest, the holy ash (tiruniiru) on His forehead and body, toodu (ear-ring worn by women) on His ear, tiger skin wrapped around His waist, a small bag of tiruniiru slung on His shoulder, String of beads rounds His neck, the staff of a Yogi on His left shoulder, a pick-axe in one hand and a gold-tipped cane in the other certainly make His appearance odd and out of the ordinary.
Most of the Siddhars in India are pictured as having matted hair knotted above the head, long beard and unbathed bodies clothed in rags. Pattinattadigal, a Saiva devotee also celebrated as a Siddhar says,
There is the loin-cloth for dress
The outer verandah (tinnai) to sleep on.
Food here are the good fruits and leaves,
There is precious water…
“Water from rivers, ponds or springs is useful for both drinking and bothing. Pattinattar also describes the Siddhar who have gained meynyanam or true knowledge. “They wander like ghosts, lie (to sleep) like a corpse, eat like a dog the food received as alms, roam about like a fox and regard women as mother”. The same concept of the Siddhar may be found in the verses of Pattirakiriyar who was a disciple of Pattinattar. Many verses authored by Siddhars show that they do not believe in false appreances and strike out at those who pretend to be what they are not and use the garb of Siddhars or anyone else for that matter. True Siddhars are beyond clothes or appearances and any other restrictions. The Pulavar Puraanam states that Thirumular had hair knotted above, wore a white join-cloth, the holy ash and ochre cloth: he was eminent, like a crown gem among those who performed penance (tavacikaamani). Thus it is clear that their dress was basic and simple, quite unconcerned about their appearance which they would not change to please anyone.
Ramalinga Swamigal (Vallalar), however presents a different picture. This great preacher of compassion always appeared with a clean body wrapped fully in white garmets and had an amiable disposition. Comparing the external appearance of Vallalar who is regarded as a Siddhar and thedescriptions of Siddhars as found in their literature, it may be concluded that their appearance cannot be the criteria to decide if one is a Siddhar or not. For the traditional description of a Siddhar is very much like that of the mentally deranged men who walk about in the streets and behave in a strange manner. The use of appearance alone might result in the inclusion of madmen and drunkards also as Siddhars. Besides dress and appearance changes according to time and place. Again, there are Siddhars not only in India but in other countries as well. As such, those from other countries cannot be expected to conform to the description of the Siddhars of India.
“The beauty of the mind is evident in the face” runs a Tamil proverb. It is possible that changes in one’s inner characteristics based on his or her external appearance. Therefore to know the true nature of the Siddhars a study of their inner self is more self is more pertinent than their exterior appearance.
Even while Siddhars live and mingle with the ordinary people. Their mind (Cittam) is always united with Sivan, the Ever Complete and Perfect Principle (Puranam). According to Siva Vakkiyar, “The Siddhar though their bodies are in this world, in their thoughts they dwell in the world of Sivan. Those who do not know this truth misunderstand Siddhar as Pittar (mad people) and vice versa”.
Though seeming to live according normal customs of the world the Siddhars live “like the ripe tamarind and its shell”. The lotus grows in water but the leaves never get wet. Similarly, even if they live in society they are not affected by desires (patru), which includes the love of family, wealth and all else that one enjoys or longs for in normal life. Their minds are never influenced by the impact of materialism. To live in society with on inner aloofness is certainly a higher state than total renunciation.
The better way to identify a siddhar is to find out “ not whether he lies in the forest or on the attractive breast of young maiden but whether his mind is pure or immersed in the impurities of desired, sings Siva Vakkiyar 12. The Vaanmikar Cuttira Nyanam states that “the siddhars are people whose minds (cittam) are not agitated, ugly or cruel (vigaaram) and are not subjected to any flutter but always clear “ 13.
Period of Siddhar
These siddhars transcend religion and language as well as the limitations of time. There are differences of opinion among research scholars regarding the periods in which these siddhars live. But for purposes of research, attempts are made to establish that the siddhars have existed since the 5th century A.D. Literature and history have been the source for such findings. However, trying to place them who transcend time into a timeframe for the sake of research does not seem proper. For those who have realized the soul (ciivan) are beyond the limits of time. Besides they are capable of going into the post or the present and their meditation (nittai) can continue for thousands of years. Trying to derive at the period of the siddhars who transcend even the yugas (millions of years) with the mere knowledge of a researcher may add to the completeness of the work but it cannot arrive at any definite conclusions.
Their doctrines or views have for a long time, been unwritten words. Their philosophy has come down in oral tradition where the guru instructs his disciple and he in turn instructs his disciple. So this group must be understood to be one with a long history of the guru disciple heredity (guru-sishya parambarai). This tradition way is followed even today.
Besides, the siddhars are not people who have lived in a particular century or period of time created literary works, served society and then passed away. Neither have they lived and functioned as a group with a definite number of members and died as other men. They are people who have created and perpetuate a long lineage that continues through the yugas. They are filled with compassion and their motto seems to be, “May this world receive the joy that we have attained.” Hence, becoming spiritual gurus to mankind caught up in the materialism of the world, these siddhars help them to attain liberation. It may be deduced that the siddhar recognizing those who have the necessary qualities and the potential to realize “ the truth”, accepted them and made them great siddhar themselves.
18 Siddhar Traditions
Traditionally it is believed that the number of siddhar in Tamil land is eighteen. Though this traditional number is known, the particular names are not clearly indicated. Further, in the anthologies of siddhars’ work now available, we come across the name of more than fifty. It is probable that many siddhars might be living in seclusion without being identified. We have also come across the works of many. Yet the traditional number of siddhars is believed to be eighteen. This may perhaps be due to the fact that there were only eighteen siddhars at the time when the siddhars clan was first identified. The siddhar have provided immense service to the community by composing verses regarding many fields like medicine, mantra, alchemy, yoga and nyana. The attribution of 18 siddhar pertaining to each field of knowledge could have been the basic for this tradition of eighteen siddhar. Thus it may be interpreted to mean, not merely 18 siddhar on general but in each of the fields of knowledge that they dealt with.
Among the literature of the Tamils, those composed by the siddhar have unique characteristics. The literary merit of the songs of the siddhars is much more popular than their other merits, their language which is very similar to that of folk literature has raised its rating as people’s literature. Their songs reveal different meanings of different levels. As the surface level they convey something different which may be understood by those with spiritual knowledge.
Yet their usage of riddles, proverbs, literary references to puraanaas and the like at the proper places help readers to understand, at least to a certain extent, the thoughts of the siddhars. There is the view that the siddhars used such unclear language to safeguard the poems from being misused by ignorant or ignoble persons. But there could be other reasons as well. Among them, the following may be considered: The siddhars who realized the greatness of the viivan that exists in the body as if in a cage, desired to make this truth known to the people. But knowing it is not something that can be attained easily by all. It is possible only for those who hold this soul-realization as the pivot of their lives and strive for it. To them, the deeper / inner meaning of the songs of the siddhars is clear. But it can never be understood by those who unconcerned with the soul, care only for their bodies and are immersed in worldly desire. Hence these songs could have been worded in such a way that only the spiritually disserving will know such truths.
Subject matter of Siddhar Literature
They have used literature as a vehicle to convey scientific truths to the common man. They deal weal yoga, astronomy and astrology, geography, botany, mathematics, medicine, alchemy, sacred or magical formula and other such fields of knowledge. Their literature dealing with such variety of topics which help to cultivate and develop the inner and outer aspects of human life, serve as concrete proof of their vast knowledge.
To unite with God who resides within and experience the joy of knowing Him. Yoga serves as a stepping stone for an ordinary man to achieve the level of the Siddhars. The path of yoga consisting of eight levels (ashtanga yoga): i.e. iyama, niyama, acana, piranayama, pirattiyakara, tarana, tiyana and camati.
These are in reality eight stages in the gradual purification of the body, mind and finally the soul. The siddhars were aware that God is in each soul, just as butter in milk, but the butter may be obtained only through certain processes. The process that helps one to see the unseen God is yoga. The term ashtamaacitti means eight great realizations and refer to the eight gradual stages of yoga. These powers are anima, Icattuva and vacittuva. All siddhar works refer to these eight cities.
It is true that they have emphasized yoga in their verses. But attaining these citis through yogic practice has not been their aim. For, they have considered these citis and powers are worthless. On the other hand to them knowing the civan and themselves becoming that Sivan is the greatest aim and benefit. One may ask here, “ Are such great effort like yogic practice necessary to realize one’s soul? Is inner purity alone not enough?”. The soul is associated with the body which a hindrance to thoughts about the soul. Yogic practices are helpful to think of the soul. Thus yoga is a great effort to think of the soul and becoming that soul. This is the final aims of yoga and not the power that may be obtained through it.
Their Contribution to the Society
Purity of the mind and love towards all beings are the peerless qualities cherished and fostered by the siddhars. They have great compassion for the people of the earth. They felt pity for people who do not realize God dwells within, believes in external rites and falsehood which are of no use but only bring disappointment and sorrow. Hence they have sung verses which indicate the useless rituals and the virtues that ought to be practiced.
The siddhar have accused the pseudo gurus, who for their own financial gains. While the siddhars give advice on how to identify the pseudogurus, understand their ideologies and reject them they also explain the characteristics of a genuine guru. Divine Powers are buried within all human beings. The ability to perform great and rare deeds successfully remains hidden in many persons. When a virtuous person involved in the practice of spirituality obtains the gracious help (anukkiragam) of a wise, noble person, his divine abilities will manifest. With this he achieves a stage of awakening with which he can realize the Truth (God) and live a noble life. His practice of spirituality develops even faster. Hence it is clear that a guru is necessary for one’s spiritual awakening. There is nothing that is not found in any one. Unless one meets a genuine guru and receives his teaching, there is no expiation.
They have identified the greed of the pseudogurus for the spread of false religious beliefs and rituals as well as the caste divisions that affect the society like cancerous cells. There are many spurious texts to which contain false teachings. Hence the siddhar have explained that once should know how to differentiate between the true guru and the pseudo ones and the need to follow the path of knowledge shown by the former.
The siddhar have expressed clearly that the tripe desires to prevent man from attaining God realization. However it may be attained through the control of the five senses. Their stress on the virtuous behavior of each individual may be said to the society at large.
They have dealt with the great benefits that a seeker of truth or God may obtain by following it. They seem to have been concerned with teaching society to discard untruths, chose truth, practice yoga and attain Godliness. This may be considered their foremost message to mankind.
The Siddhar verses reveal that God is One and “ That One” appears also as the soul and the universe. Though they worshipped God who dwells within the soul, they have sung of the deities worshipped by ordinary people. Many of their verses contain descriptions of the various forms of God. An examination of the index of all the names the siddhars have used to describe the Formless. Form and Formless-Form states of God, reveals that they have used names that are generic or bring out one or more characteristics of God. One reason may be put forward for this inclusion. Inner worship is understood only by those who have true knowledge. In order to make it understandable and acceptable to the ordinary man the siddhars used the way of life known to such people.
Thus it must be understood that the concept that there is one God only and his quality of grace are not connected to or denote the deities worshipped externally but refer only to the ciivan that resides within and its pure qualities.
In order that everyone can understand and worship the Sivan that the siddhars worshipped. These great people used the many names and qualities of God that were in common usage. It may be concluded that “the siddhars have stamped the Vedantic ideas of “I becoming that” or “Realizing ciivan and becoming Sivan” in their songs as the central theme. In their efforts to convey it to the people according to their spiritual maturity the siddhars have used the vedantic concepts as the base of their teaching but imposed the Saiva Siddhata concepts to make it more comprehensible.
Siddhar is one who places his mind entirely on Sivan, subdues it and he himself becomes Sivan. This was the central idea of their way of life. In the study of the siddhar, it must be understood that placing the mind totally on Sivan actually means placing it on the soul (ciivan). Thus those who realize the soul realize Sivan. Such people are the ones fit to be called Siddhar.
1. R. Manickavasagam, Cittar Padalgal, Tamil Illakkiya Kolgai -2, 1977:190
2. Silappathigarm, 1956:10:177.183
First World Conferance Siddar Principles 2007.
Kuala Lumpur Organized By:
Pertubuhan Kerohanian Sri Agastiar Nyaana Peedam Malaysia.