- (c. ninth century)Tamil poet-saintManikkavacakar is often considered the Tamil people’s most revered Shaivite poet-saint, even though he is not included in the traditional grouping of 63 saints. His works, Tirukkovaiyar and TIRUVACAKAM, form the eighth book of the Tamil Shaivite canonical work TIRUMURAI. There is hardly a Tamil Shaivite who does not know a line from these two poems, which express devotion to Lord SHIVA with great beauty and fervor.Manikkavacakar was born in a Tamil Brahmin family in Tiruvatavur, a village on the Vaikai River, which also runs through the city of Madurai, and thus he has the proper name of Tirvatavur (He Who Belongs to the Sacred Village of Tiruvatavu-ras). But he is best known, Manikkavacakar (he whose utterances [vacaka] are like rubies [manik-kam]). His father was an adviser to the Pandya king. The son followed in his father’s footsteps and became chief minister to the Pandya monarch Arimarttanar.The story goes that Manikkavacakar was sent by the monarch to a port city with a huge sum of money to buy horses. There Manikkavacakar, who was inclined to renounce the world, met his GURU, who was in fact a form of SHIVA himself. There he took teaching from the guru and asked to be taken as a devotee. He surrendered to his guru all the treasure entrusted to him by the king. When the king found out, he imprisoned Manikkavacakar. Forced to stand in the hot sun so that he would agree to return the money, the saint prayed to Shiva, and a herd of beautiful horses was deliv-ered to him to give to the king. Unfortunately, the horses were jackals who had been magically transformed and reverted to their former nature during the night.The king again tormented Manikkavacakar in the hot sun. Eventually, when Shiva revealed himself to the king, Manikkavacakar was released. He was ordered by Shiva to go to three shrines to teach and to defeat the Buddhists in debate.One of these shrines was the famous Shiva shrine of CHIDAMBARAM. It was there that most of the hymns that formed the Tiruvacakam were first sung (and probably written by his followers). It is said that the Buddhists there heard of the saint and sent someone to debate him. Manikkavacakar completely vanquished the Buddhists in debate, invoking SARASVATI to strike them dumb. The Bud-dhists then all became devotees of Shiva. Eventu-ally, Shiva himself wrote all the poet’s works, and the saint disappeared into the icon of Shiva in Chidambaram.Further reading: G. U. Pope, The Tiruvacakam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900); K. Ravi, Saint Manikkavasagar’s Verses of Wisdom: A Bio-Cosmic Worldview (Madras: Anand Jothi, 2002); Glenn Yocum, Hymns to the Danc-ing Siva: A Study of Manikkavacakar’s Tiruvacakam (Columbia, Mo.: South Asia Books, 1982).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.