Svadhyaya and Thirumular

Svadhyaya is a Sanskrit word many yogis are familiar with. It is a
samasa or a compound word. It can be split into sva meaning ‘own’, and
adhyaya or study; therefore svadhyaya would mean own study. It is open
to different interpretations. It could mean study by oneself or study
of the Self or as my Guru would interpret based on tradition, study of
one’s own scriptures. In his case it was studying his branch of the
Vedas, or sakha. It was Taittiriya saka of the Yajur veda, which also
happens to be my sakha or branch of the Vedas. It became easy to study
vedic chanting with him. The term svadhyaya is found in the Taittiriya
Upansihad and there is a chapter in the same rendition (in aranyaka),
called svadhyaya prakarana which extols the efficacy of vedic chanting
especially the venerated Gayatri.

Some scholars refer to svadhyaya with a more generalized
interpretation. Since sva is own, svadhyaya could mean study of the
Self:or the atma vidya or adhyatma vidya which is the subject matter
of the Upanishadic portion of the Vedas. It could include other
philosophies which help to understand the nature of the Self,  like
Yoga and Samkhya. Hence all studies in which the main goal is
realization of the Self or Soul can be termed as svadhyaya. Sri
Krishnamacharya made it a point to teach  several Upanishad vidyas and
other adhyatma vidyas as Yoga, the Gita, samkhya  etc.

But what does Patanjali indicate by Svadhyaya in the Niyamas? It is
the study and practice of the devotional rituals of the Vedas. This
can be inferred from the benefits Patanjali says would accrue by
svadhyaya. It is the communion with one’s own ishtadevata or personal
deity, “svadhyayat ishta devata samprayogah”. Sri Krishnamacharya
spent a lot of time teaching the Vedas and vedic philosophies.
Svadhyaya is a perpetual niyama. So every year on the full moon day
during the month July15 to August 14th, orthodox Indians renew their
pledge to study the Vedas, and follow it up on the following day by
the chanting of the Gayatri mantra 1008 times. They continue the
minimum practice of svadhyaya by chanting gayatri every day at least
108 times. Many chant the Vedas, like the Sun Salutation mantras or
the vedic hymns of Siva or the Upanishad etc., every day. This is
orthodox svadhyaya which Patanjali seems to include as a Niyama.

If we take a wider interpretation of the word svadhyaya to mean study
of the adhyatma vidyas or study about the Self, we have a number of
texts that compete for the Yogi’s attention. Apart from the main
philosophies like Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta on this subject, almost
all the old texts like the Puranas and individual works have a portion
on Yoga, as “yogic discipline” was considered a prerequisite for the
study, understanding and meditation of the Self.

Such texts are many in number. They are not limited to Sanskrit alone.
In fact there are many classic texts on spirituality in a Dravidian
language called Tamil (Tamizh), which is my mother tongue. Several
Tamil scholars consider Tamil to be even older than Sanskrit and it is
one of the few Indian languages with a minimum of Sanskrit- derived
words. The philosophical works in Tamil are many. There is a beautiful
small text called “Kaivalya Navaneetam” or the butter of  Spiritual
Freedom. It indicates that if one studies that book, spiritual Freedom
takes place instantaneously, like the time taken to swallow a piece of
butter. Or kaivalya or spiritual freedom will appear to be as
delicious to the spiritual aspirant as butter would be to a child.
Children love butter and Lord Krishna as a child was said to be very
fond of butter.

Perhaps one of the best known Tamil works on spirituality is the one
written by a Sivayogi called Tirumular.  He says in his work
Thirumandiram that he was a contemporary of Patanjali and by
implication witnessed the dance of Lord Siva in Chidambaram. (For the
story of Patanjali please read the chapter “Story of Patanjali” in  my
book “Yoga for the Three Stages of Life”). Some scholars consider
Tirumandiram, the 3000 verse monumental work, as equivalent to the
works of the Bhagavatgita, Patanjali’s Yogautra and another Yoga
classic, Yogavasishta combined. It is hard to disagree.

Tirumular says:

By receiving Nandhi’s grace we sought the feet of the Lord
The Four Nandhis (Sanagar, Santhanar, Sanath Sujatar, Sanath Kumarar),
Siva Yoga Maamuni, Patañjali, Vyakramapadar and I (Thirumoolar)
We were thus eight disciples.

The story of Tirumular is also interesting. He was a Sivayogi and a
siddha yogi, one who had attained siddhis—like what you find in the
Vibhuti Pada of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Here is the story.

It is said that the Siva Yogi, Sundaranatha, who was one of the eight
direct disciples of Lord Siva, having received the blessings of Lord
Siva and also having become a Sidhha and being a great Vedic scholar,
decided to visit the South Indian sage Agastya (rhymes with Augustus?)
who was living in the Podihai mountains of Tamil Nadu in South India.
He worshipped the Lord in Kedhar and Pasupati in Nepal. He took a holy
dip in the Ganga and proceeded towards the South. He visited the
mountain range of Shrisailam, on the banks of the great Southern river
Krishna and worshipped Sivasankara. Travelling further south he
reached Kalahasti, another venerated hill temple of Siva. Then he went
to the dancing Siva’s (Nataraja) temple Alavanam and then went to
Kancheepuram and worshipped the Lord in the Ekambresvara temple, about
50 miles from the city of Madras (Chennai).  Then he reached the great
temple in Tillai or Chidambaram and witnessed the primordial dance of
Lord Siva, the same place where Patanjali also had the vision of the
divine dance. His heart was full of immense divine joy on seeing the
dance of the Lord. Then he slowly moved further south and reached the
banks of the river Kaviri.

One day, after taking his bath in the holy river Kaveri, he went to
another Siva temple in Aduthurai. He worshipped the icon of the Lord
in that temple and never felt like leaving the beautiful form and the
spiritual environs of the place. But he collected himself and started
proceeding towards the Podihai mountains to meet with the short
statured Agastya. As he was slowly treading along the bank of Kaveri,
he saw a herd of cows standing around a spot, not moving, not grazing
as expected. He went near them and saw to his dismay, the cowherd
lying dead in front of the cows. The orphaned cows which seemed to be
unable to bear the loss of their friendly cowherd were weeping with
their heads down. It was also time for the cows to return to their
habitats to be milked and such milch cows were struggling to stay in
place with their heavy udders.  The Yogi, who considers ‘Love is the
Lord’ (anbe Sivam), took pity on the cows.  He used his yogic powers
called “para kaya pravesa” and transmigrated into the body of the
cowherd, known as Mula. In an instant Mula woke up as if from sleep
and the cows instantly looked happy. The Yogi, now a cowherd, kept his
own body aside under a banyan tree-planning to re-enter his own body a
short while afterwards- and led the cows back to their habitats. He
waited for the cows to return to their respective spots and then
decided to get back to the forest where his original body was.
Reaching the spot where he had left his body, he was shocked to find
that his body was missing. Actually the King’s servants finding an
unclaimed body decided to dispose of it by cremating it as per the
custom. Now the Yogi who had renounced everything had now renounced
his own body.  Though he was taken aback by the turn of events, he
realized that the Lord Siva was directing him to propagate Sivayoga
through him in the Southern part of India through the medium of  the
Southern language, Tamizh . Shortly thereafter, some of the villagers
not finding Mula with the returning cows came in search of him in the
forest and brought him back to the village and left him in his house.
Mulan’s wife who herself was an orphan and childless found the
behavior of her husband odd. He said to her that he had renounced the
world and would not come back home and went into a Mutt and remained
there for the night, planning to leave the place the following day.
Mulan’s wife was restless all night. She had no relatives or grown up
children to take care of her. Early in the morning she approached the
elders of the village and narrated her plight and requested them to
persuade Mulan to return home. The elders after talking to him for a
few minutes realized that a transformation had taken place in Mula and
that he was not the illiterate cowherd anymore but an accomplished
Yogi and they thought it was due to the grace of Lord Siva. They went
back and consoled Mulan’s wife, telling her that her husband has
transformed himself to a Yogi and she should feel happy and proud of
her husband. They also persuaded the Yogi to stay near the village so
that his wife would feel more secure even though he would be separated
from her. The Yogi sat under a tree and meditated for one year and at
the end woke up from his Samadhi and composed one verse. Again he went
into Samadhi and at the end of the second year he opened his eyes and
composed the second verse and went on to compose three thousand
verses, it is believed in the following 3000 years! Thirumantiram
(lit., the sacred mantras) became a classic in Siva Yoga and there is
no one who would not be touched deeply by one verse or the other.

Here are a few verses translated, pertaining to Ashtanga Yoga.
1. Certain constraints and prescribed duties (dont’s and do’s),
countless postures, breath control, sense control, concentration,
meditation, and absorption are the eight aspects of yoga.
2. One who is steadfast in Yama, the first Anga, will never cause
injuries to anyone by word or deed (nor abet). Thoroughly truthful, he
never covets; possesses exemplary qualities, and is pious. Modest and
neutral he shares his possessions with others. Pure he abjures use of
3. The Niyamas (vows) are cleanliness, both outward and inward,
compassion, dieting, forbearance, truth, sensitiveness and a mind free
from lust, greed, or sadism.
4. Further, austerity, chanting, contentment, faith, charity,
religiousness, scriptural study and its propagation, and worship are
the aspects of Niyama.
5. Asanas are many hundreds. The important ones are Bhadrasana,
Gomukhasana, Padmasana, Simhasana, Siddhasana, Veerasana, Sukhasana
and Swastikasana.
6. By the proper control of Prana (Pranayama) bliss arises in one
automatically. Why resort to intoxicating drinks? The gait becomes
sprightly and laziness vanishes. This is the truth, oh sensible one,
of the efficacy of Pranayama.
7. Usually Prana circulates in the body without control. If one, by
proper practice purifies and controls it, the complexion will become
golden, grey hair will turn black, and ultimately/untimely death will
be prevented.
8. Thirumular indicates that he, by the aid of Yoga lived long (3, 000 years). Knowledge of life and long life are essential, he says,to
attain spiritual knowledge. He says “Once I was under the impression
that the body need not be protected since it is perishable. Of late I
found that something is inside it, and that something is the all-
pervading entity, which is inside my body as though my body is its
temple. After finding that truth I have taken a vow to protect and
preserve my body temple and keep perfect.”

Here is Ganesa Prayer from Tirumular’s Tirumandiram, which I usually
chant at the beginning of my Yoga classes

Aindu karattanai
Aanai muhattanai
Indin ilampirai pondra eyitrinai
Nandi mahandanai
Pundiyil vaittadi potruhinrene.

Him, who has arms five,
Him, who has an elephant face
Him, whose single tusk equals the charm of the crescent moon,
Him, who is the offspring of the Blissful Lord,
Him, who is wisdom overflowing
I worship (by) keeping His feet
In my consciousness (mind)

Here are a couple of gems

There is but one Race
There is but one God

The ignorant considers Love and God as different
And many consider Love and God separate
When one finds out Love and God to be identical
One becomes an embodiment of Love/Compassion

The entire text is published. I think there is a translation of it in
Indian English, with which you are now familiar.

Sri Krishnamacharya was an innovative yogi. He adapted yoga, using the
physical, physiological, psychological, devotional and spiritual
aspects to the requirements of individuals. But these adaptations were
based on solid footing in traditional yoga. There is a view among a
few yoga practitioners that Yoga is evolving and so they become
inventors of Yoga, without studying the huge amount of yogic wisdom
already available. My Guru spent the first four decades of his life,
went around different parts of the country studied under different
teachers different subjects before settling down to teach Yoga. In the
olden days, classical subjects like traditional music, grammar and
literature, vedic chanting, Ayurveda and Yoga were supposed to be
studied full time for at least seven years before one can claim to
work in that specific areas. Even in modern times, subjects like
Medicine, Law, Engineering and others require solid study for a number
of years before one can practice as a doctor or a lawyer or design a
bridge. So when Krishnamacharya taught Yoga or treated a patient with
yoga procedures, you could be sure that even as he would adapt to
individual requirements it was based on solid, thorough traditional
knowledge. He had one foot firmly grounded in orthodox approach. He
even would exhort his students to go around villages and approach
agraharamas (elite communities) and look for works of obscure yogis
that would be available with their families and bring them out and
study them. He used to quote sometimes from unusual sources, mainly
because he took efforts to unearth hidden treasures of yogic
knowledge. In Yoga Makaranda you come across references to many works
which we are not able to find nowadays, but which he had studied. Many
of the works remained unpublished like the Yogakuranta, for instance.
So svadhyaya is a vey important aspect of a Yogi’s development.
Without that, without those moorings, the yogi becomes rudderless and
could waste perhaps a lot of valuable time either with ineffective
innovations or lopsided practices within a narrow spectrum. Sri
Krishnamacharya was an orthodox Yogi with a lot of conventional,
traditional study (svadhyaya) and that was the secret of his
innovations. He made the obscure Yoga of yesteryears accessible to
modern times.

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

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