Kediliyappa Pillai was a minister in the court of Vijayaranga Sokkanatha Nayagar who ruled from Trisirapuram, now called Tiruchirapalli. Kediliyappa Pillai had given in adoption his first born to his elder brother, who had no children. He got a second child only after long years of prayer to Thayumaneswarar and so he named the child Thayumanavar. Thayumanavar was taught Tamil and Sanskrit, and he was a keen student of Vedanta and Siddanta, learning quickly Upanishads and Siva Jnana Bodham, besides Tiruvachakam, Thevaram and other works of Saivite saints. Besides the study of sastras and religious literature, he was also seeking a Guru, who will satisfy his spiritual thirst. He preferred solitude to company, reflection to reading, introspection to seeking out and spent time in meditation and prayer at rock-temple.
When Thayumanavar was in teens, Kediliyappa Pillai passed away and the king now requested Thayumanavar to take up his job, as he was impressed by his scholarship and spiritual disposition. He took up the new responsibility but continued with it his quest for a Guru and his spiritual pursuits. In his quest for a Guru, he used to engage in discussion with any sage, asking them searching questions but could not convince himself to adopt any one of them as his Guru. One day he saw at the entrance to the shrine of Lord Dakshinamurti, a Sage sitting in deep meditation, looking graceful. He approached the Sage with great reverence, eager to engage in discussion, putting his usual questions. But at a glance from the sage, his nerves failed him and he fell at the Sage’s feet speechless. If he was lost for words, the Sage, known as Mouna Guru Arulananda Sivachari, also did not speak. With tears of joy pouring from his eyes, Thayumanavar poured out his heart to the Sage and requested the Sage to take him as his disciple. Mouna Guru, who speaks very rarely now took him aside and told him to continue in family life for the present and that he would meet him again when the time was ripe and then initiate him into Sanyasa. In the meantime his advice was “Summa iru” meaning be quiet in body, mind and speech. Thayumanavar parted from him reluctantly, to pursue his spiritual exercises more vigorously along with his ministerial duties.
At this time an incident happened which made the king and the people regard him more as a spiritual master than as the country’s minister. One day as he was in the court handling an important paper, he suddenly squeezed and threw it down unconsciously. The king was aghast and the people in the court felt he had shown disrespect to the king. He suddenly recovered, apologised and tried to put matters right without offering any explanation. What had happened was; though he was bodily present in the court, mentally he was in the shrine of Devi Akilandeswari at Tiruvanaikovil. There the dress of Devi caught fire and he had acting on impulse quickly put out the fire by squeezing the affected part. This had been noticed by the Sivachariar who could not react as quickly as Thayumanavar. When the Sivachariar reported this incident to the king, the king realized Thayumanavar’s mystic powers. Then on he became king’s minister cum master.
Soon after, the king passed away and his queen Minakshiammai ascended the throne. She wanted him to continue not only as her minister but also become her paramour as well. So one night he left Tiruchirapalli without informing anybody and went beyond the limits of the kingdom to Ramanathapuram. Here he preferred to stay aloof and practice inner solitude and silence. But this could not last for long as his brother Sivachidambaram Pillai and cousin Arulaiyappa Pillai having heard of his departure from Tiruchirapalli, traced him to Ramanathapuram and entreated him to come to Vedaranyam and settle in household life. Then he remembered the advice of the Guru at Rock fort temple and so went with them to Vedaranyam.
There he married Mattuvarkuzhali, a fair and chaste woman who was a good companion to him in his life of Yoga and meditation. He read to her ancient books of wisdom and taught her meditation. They led a simple life, a life of purity and meditation. Thayumanavar, like his father earlier to becoming minister, supervised the local temple. They had a son who was named as Kanakasabapathi. The duration of his household life was short as Mattuvarkuzhali passed away soon after. Thayumanavar placed the child under the care of his brother and waited for his Guru to come as promised. And the Guru came one day when he was meditating on the sea shore near Vedaranyam. Satisfied with the spiritual advancement of his disciple, the Guru ordered him to take to ascetic life, and instructed him in the higher stage of the Yoga, with a warning that he should not be carried away by the Siddhis that would unfold themselves but keep to the illumining and blissful road leading to Oneness with the Consciousness and Bliss of the Supreme. After initiating him in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Guru left him.
Thayumanavar left Vedaranyam as a wandering ascetic clad in loin cloth only, visiting various shrines, singing the glory of the Lord. Many songs and places later he arrived back at Ramanathapuram. This time he was given a grand welcome with royal honours. Thayumanavar rejected all royal honours and preferred to spend his life in a garden hut in Lakshmipuram. There he practiced Nirvikalpa Samadhi in silence and was mostly in a state of trance. From that highest state of divinity, he poured out his spiritual intuitions in sublime verses. He wrote them on palm leaves. His disciples Arulayya and Kodikkarai Jnani copied and sang them to the public. The songs spread like wild fire. He wrote in silence, lived in silence and immersed himself in Divine Silence avoiding all publicity. He suddenly felt one day that his mission was over and he wanted to shed the body. He entered into his room and closed the door, leaving a note outside wherein he entreated his disciples to live in silent meditation and enjoy the inner bliss. In the night when he did not appear for supper, the disciples went to call him and saw the note. They gently called and knocked. Getting no response they broke open the door and entered the room to find only the lifeless body with the face as serene as ever. The disciples adorned the body and took it in a procession singing his songs, in which the King and all the prominent local people joined and they later buried the body.
Thayumanavar was a great saint, philosopher and poet. Like the saying “சாத்திரத்திற்கு திருமந்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு திருவாசகம்” Thayumanavar’s songs are said to be “சாத்திரத்திற்கு சாத்திரம், தோத்திரத்திற்கு தோத்திரம்” as they combine both sastra teaching as well as praise of Lord. His songs are couched in simple language easily understandable by all and in that way he is said to be the forerunner of Bharathiyar and Vallalar. His key teaching is to discipline the mind, control desires and meditate peacefully. Of the songs he wrote 1454 are said to be available now. His philosophy is called Advaita Siddantham as his teachings outline Sivadvaitam. He sees Consciousness as one’s Self;
“பாராதி பூதம் நீ அல்லை – உன்னிப்பார் இந்திரியம் கரணம் நீ அல்லை
ஆராய் உணர்வு நீ என்றான் (ஆனந்தக்களிப்பு)
He sees Lord as perfect bliss pervading everything and so he refers to Lord as பார்க்குமிட மெங்குமொரு நீக்கமற நிறைகின்ற பரிபூர ணானந்தமே. (பரிபூரணானந்தம்) and he says elsewhere
எங்கெங்கே பார்த்தாலும் எவ்வுயிர்க்கும் அவ்வுயிராய்
அங்கங் கிருப்பதுநீ அன்றோ பராபரமே. (பராபரக்கண்ணி 84.)
அங்கங் கிருப்பதுநீ அன்றோ பராபரமே. (பராபரக்கண்ணி 84.)
A few of his songs from பராபரக்கண்ணி which explains his philosophy, his teachings regarding mind discipline are as follows:
எல்லாரும் இன்புற் றிருக்க நினைப்பதுவே
அல்லாமல் வேறொன் றறியேன் பராபரமே. (221.)
ஒன்றே பலவே உருவே அருவேயோ
என்றே அழைப்பதுன்னை என்றோ பராபரமே. (118).
தன்னை அறிந்தால் தலைவன்மேற் பற்றலது
பின்னையொரு பற்றும்உண்டோ பேசாய் பராபரமே. (94).
சினமிறக்கக் கற்றாலுஞ் சித்தியெல்லாம் பெற்றாலும்
மனமிறக்கக் கல்லார்க்கு வாயேன் பராபரமே.(169).
கொள்ளித்தேள் கொட்டிக் குதிக்கின்ற பேய்க்குரங்காய்க்
கள்ளமனந் துள்ளுவதென் கண்டோ பராபரமே.(172.)
உள்ளபடி யாதுமென உற்றுணர்ந்தேன் அக்கணமே
கள்ளமனம் போனவழி காணேன் பராபரமே. (275.)
The songs of Thayumanavar are sparks of Divine essence and music of the inner Soul. They were a favourite with Ramna Maharishi and he was sometimes so emotionally moved when he read out some of the songs of Thayumanavar, that he would be unable to continue; records Devraja Mudaliar.