It just so happened that once, a long time ago, a great siddha-yogi started heading southward on foot. At the behest of his illustrious master, he was to walk to the southern plains, to the land which long ago had been graced by Agastya, the ancient sage of legends. There, he was to spread the glory of the holy texts of Shiva, the Lord of all that exists. To fulfill the command of Nandikeshvara, his guru, Sundaranatha walked for a long time from the Himalayas down to the Tamil country in peninsular southern India.
He had almost reached his destination, when all of a sudden he saw in a meadow cows running hither and tither. The cowherd had died and the cattle were without a master to lead them homeward. Sundaranatha felt for the poor creatures. Under a tree, he sat and meditated. Entering deep yogic stasis, he left his own body and took over the lifeless body of Mulan the cowherd. As night fell, he drove the cattle home to safety. Upon return, to his surprise Sundaranatha’s own body had disappeared and nowhere to be found. He was left with no choice. He had to fulfill the command of his master and disseminate the holy knowledge that had been imparted to him. He had become a cowherd and was to remain as such forever more. Thus the great siddha-yogi came to be known as Tirumular (an honorific form of Mulan).
The above is a very simplified story of the ancient sage Tirumular, the author of the Tirumantiram in the Tamil language, a text fundamental to the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy. The Tirumantiram is an interesting work which blends together Shaivite Agamic doctrines with the Vedanta of the Upanishads, ritual worship and yoga, tantra and mantra, theism and monism. Without doubt, it was composed to bridge the gap that was developing between the growing Tantric and Vedantic streams. Though popular legends place the composition of the Tirumantiram as far back as 3000 years ago or more, purely historical analyses date the text to the 5th or 6th century CE.
Much has been said and written about the Tirumantiram. Here, however, our focus is not on the theology of the text, but the esoteric meaning of the legend of its author. What does it mean for the siddha-yogi to become a cowherd?
To understand the analogy of the cowherd, one must go back to the essential Shaivite terms: Pati and pashu. Literally, Pati means Master or Lord, and pashu means beast or cattle. In ancient Shaivism, Pati and pashu were terms used respectively to describe the Lord and individual souls who depend upon Him, as cows depend on their herder to bring them back home safely. He is Pashupati, Lord of souls, and they are his pashus. Pashupati is an exalted name of Shiva mentioned in the Yajurveda.
The transformation of Sundaranatha into Tirumular, therefore, carries great significance apart from the mundane. The transformation of Sundaranatha signifies the full realization of the siddha-yogi of his oneness with Shiva. The pashu has realized his complete oneness with Pashupati, the jiva (individual entity) has become Shiva; the atman has realized Brahman. He who was known as Sundaranatha is now Tirumular, a jivan-mukta. He has verily become Sadashiva.
Thus expounding I bore His Word
Down Kailasa's unchanging path,
The Word of Him, the Eternal, the Truth Effulgence,
The Limitless Great, Nandi, the Joyous One,
He of the Blissful Dance that all impurity dispels.
With Nandi's Grace I sought the Primal Cause,
With Nandi's Grace I Sadasiva became,
With Nandi's Grace Truth Divine attained,
With Nandi's Grace I so remained.
Tirumantiram, Mantra 91-92.
Such is the realization; such is the story of Tirumular.
Aum Namah Shivaya.
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