- A Nayanmar or Nayanar is a “leader” or “master.” In the Tamil devotional tradition the Nayanmars were poet-saints who spread the message of devotion to SHIVA throughout Tamil Nadu. Tra-dition makes them 63 in number, but some of the names are probably legendary figures. The real Nayanars lived from roughly the sixth to the eighth century C.E. They sang the praise and love of Shiva at numerous holy places, shrines, and temples throughout the region, opposing the Jains, Buddhists, and VAISHNAVITES in their efforts to advance everyone to the grace of their Lord Shiva. They apparently participated in India’s first known popular devotional move-ment, as all their verses are sung in Tamil, the spoken language of the local people, and not in SANSKRIT.The last of the Nayanars, SUNDARAR, was granted a revelation by Lord Shiva himself at Tiru-varur, of the lives of the 62 saints who preceded him. His work is the first to give the entire list, to which his own name was later added. Nambi Andar Nambi (c. 1000 C.E.) is said to have com-piled the songs of all of the Nayanars, adding to them the works of several other famous poet-saints, including MANIKKAVACAKAR, to form the basis of the TIRUMURAI, the basic Tamil Shaivite sacred canon. It consists of 12 books, 11 of them assembled by Nambi.Included in Tirumurai is Nambi Andar Nam-bi’s own account of the “holy labors” of the 63 saints, as well as his own story and verses. The 12th and final book is SEKKILAR’s PERIYA PURANAM (c. 1200 C.E.); its more than 4,000 verses summa-rize and add to the earlier Nayanar compendiums and include the works of some other Shaivite saints.The three best-known and most prolific of the Nayanars are APPAR, SAMBANTHAR, and Sun-darar. Their hymns make up the TEVARAM, which serves as the primary liturgical scripture for Tamil Shaivites. These songs are strongly oriented toward particular sacred places, shrines, and temples that were visited by the three peripatetic saints as they pursued their PILGRIMAGE in order to sing Shiva. In Shaivite temples in Tamil Nadu today the Tevaram songs are sung in ritual wor-ship, along with Sanskrit MANTRAS.Most Nayanars were men, but a few were women. The most famous of the women saints is the first on the list of 63, Karaikal Ammaiyar. The saints were from every class and trade, from Brah-min (Sundarar and Sambanthar) to Dalit (untouch-ables) (Tirunalaipovanar, alias Nantanar).Further reading: Vidya Dehejia, Slaves of the Lord: The Path of the Tamil Saints (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1988); Indira Viswanthan Peterson, Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989); Kamil V. Zvelibil, Tamil Literature (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.