“The Saiva Siddhanta system is the distilled essence of Vedanta ------ It is midway between Sankara’s Advaita and Ramanuja’s Visishtadvaitha” observes Swami Sivananda. Today Saiva Siddanta is more known as Southern Saivism associated with Tamilnadu and with Tamil diaspora all over the world. But Saiva Siddanta, considered as the culmination of Saiva Agamas as Vedanta is the culmination of Vedas had been in existence from 2nd century BC, though not in the form as it is today and the first known guru of Saiva Siddhanta tradition was Nandinatha, who lived around 250 BC in Kashmir. The present form which is popular in Tamilnadu and all over the Tamil speaking world has as its scriptural basis not only Agamas and Vedas but also Nalvar Thevaram and Siddantha Sastras, most important of which is Sivajnanabodham written by Meykandar. In fact Sivajnanabodham is considered as primary text today of Saiva Siddantha Philosophy.
In thirteenth century there lived in Pennadagam of present day Cuddalore district, a pious Saiva peasant by name, Achyutha Kalappalar. He had no children and he sought the advice of his guru, Sakalagama Pandithar. Sakalagama Pandithar after praying to Lord shiva, brought the holy Thirumurais and put a thread inside the Thirumurai palm leaf book (kayiru charththal). The song that came was “peyadaiyaa piriveydhum---(பேயடையா பிரிவெய்தும்)“ in Thiruvengattu Thiruppadhikam. The verse of Thirugnanasambandar declared that one, who took bath in the three temple tanks and worshipped the Lord of Thiruvengadu, would have all his wishes fulfilled including the birth of a son. As per that he asked Achyutha Kalappalar to go to Thiruvengadu with his wife and bathe in the three tanks in the temple and offer worship to the Lord of Thirunengadu. Accordingly Achyutha Kalappalar went to Thiruvengadu with his wife and together they bathed in the three tanks; Surya Theertham, Chandra Theertham and Agni Theertham, singing songs from Sambandar Thevaram and went and worshipped the Lord of Thiruvengadu praying for a son.
In due time a son was born to Achuyutha Kalappalar’s wife and was named Svethavanaperumal, the name of the Lord at Thiruvengadu. He was growing as a pious child. As a child of three he went to his uncle’s house at Thiruvennainallur and was playing in the street. At that time time a miracle happened. Paranjothi munivar who was travelling in the air towards Podhikai hills, noticed the boy playing in the street. He was struck by the divine glow in the little boy’s face and could foresee a great spiritual future for him. He came down and took the child in his hands giving him Sparsa deeksha and Nayana deeksha and also imparted him cryptic essence of Sivajnanabodham. He gave him also the deeksha name of Meykandar, a Tamil rendering of Paranjothi munivar’s guru’s name, Satya Jnana Darsini. Like Tirugnanasambandar, who was blessed with divine milk from Goddess Parvathi at the age of three, Meykandar had also blessing of the last of the Akha(அக) Santhanakuravars to blossom into first Pura Santhanakuravar.
Enlightened child prodigy Meykandar compiled the essence of the sacred knowledge received, in a work of 12 sutras, known as Sivajnanabodham. This work of 40 lines has become the basic work of Saiva Siddantha. He pioneered the line of preceptors called Pura Santhanakuravars who produced great philosophic works elucidating the philosophy outlined in Sivajnanabodham. His fame started spreading and many became his disciples. Sakalagama pandithar heard about Meykandar’s rising fame and came to see him with a superiority complex that after all Meykandar was only the child whom he had helped to bring about and he wanted to test Meykandar’s depth of knowledge. At the time he came, Meykandar was taking lessons on Aanava Mala and Sakalagama pandithar who burst into the class asked Meykandar to define Aanava Malam. Meykandar without uttering a word pointed straight at Pandithar himself as answer to the question.
Shedding his arrogance, Pandithar prostrated at the feet of Meykandar and requested he be taken as one of Meykandar’s disciples. It was a case reminiscent of Lord Dakshinamurthy and his disciple where Guru was young and disciple old. Meykandar accepted him as a disciple with a diksha name Arulnandhi Sivam. Soon he became the foremost student and became the second Pura Santhanakuravar after Meykandar. We only know that Meykandar also wrote a commentary for his work and breathed his last in Thiruvennainallur and his time was around 1232 AD. Nothing more is known about his personal history.
Santhana Kuravars are Gurus of philosophy in Saiva Siddantha. All Santhana Kuravars bear a chain relationship of Guru Sishya, from one to next. Of them Akha Santhana Kuravavars are ones of Deva parampara and live in Mount Kailash. They are four in number and they are; 1) Thiru Nandhi Devar, 2)Sanath Kumarar, 3)Satya Jnana Darshini and 4)Paranjyothi Munivar. Pura Santhana Kuravars are ones born as mortals and are also four in number. They are; 1) Meykandar, 2) Arulnandi Sivam, 3) Maraijnana Sambandar and 4) Umapathy Sivachariyar.
According to Saiva Siddhanta, Lord Siva is the Paramathma, called Pathi, the primal being and the supreme deity. Pathi is infinite consciousness, infinite intelligence and infinite bliss and is omniscient, omnipresent and unbound. He is free from defects; the all-doer and all knower. He brings forth the worlds and their beings through his dynamic power, Sakthi. Sakthi alone is the conscious energy of Lord Siva. The five activities (Pancha-Krityas) of the Lord are Srishti (creation), Sthiti (preservation), Samhara (destruction), Tirobhava (veiling) and Anugraha (grace). These, separately considered, are the activities of Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Mahesvara and Sadasiva. For a pot the potter is the efficient cause; clay and wheel the instrumental causes and clay the material cause. Same way for the Creation, Lord Siva is the efficient cause, Sakthi, the instrumental cause and Maya, the material cause.
The Jeevathmas or the individual souls are called Pasus. They are not the same as Siva, but they are made of the same essence Thus in Saiva Siddhanta there is a fine distinction between the Jeevathmas and Paramathma; and their relationship is not a state of oneness but of sameness. Pasus are by nature infinite, eternal and all-knowing like Pathi; but they think they are finite, limited and little-knowing because of Pasa, bondage.
Pasa consists of three impurities, Malas. These three Malas are Anava, Karma and Maya. Anava Mala is the natural impurity (Sahaja Mala) which is born with the Jeevathma that clouds its consciousness and makes it think it is limited and of finite knowledge and leaves the Jeevathma only at the time of liberation, called Kaivalyam. Karma Mala binds the Jeevathma to the consequences of its actions and brings about its conjunction with the body. Maya Mala binds the Jeevathma to the sense objects through desires and ignorance. The Jeevathmas are of three types called Sakalar, Pralayakalar and Vijnanakalar. Sakalar have all the Malas, Anava, Karma and Maya; Pralayakalar have Anava and Maya, and Vijnanakalar have only the Anava Mala.
Thirumoolar gives in a nutshell the essence of Saiva Siddanta:
பதி பசு பாசம் எனப் பகர் மூன்றில்
பதியினைப் போல் பசு பாசம் அனாதி
பதியினைச் சென்று அணுகாப் பசு பாசம்
பதி அணுகில் பசு பாசம் நில்லாவே. (Thirumanthiram)
Pasu and Pasam are eternal like Pathi. Pathi is the supreme. Pasu with Pasam by itself cannot reach Pathi. When Pathi bestows His Grace, Pasam and Pasu consciousness disappear and Pathi Consciousness only shines in Pasu.