20 July 2010

a classic yoga text...but not the one you think

AUM in Tamil

Sanskrit is the language we are all familiar with in yoga classes, but the Indian government declared Tamil an "official classical language" in 2004, the year before they declared Sanskrit to be the same.

As yoga students we are familiar with Patanjali's Sutra-s, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, but how many are familiar with classic yoga texts that are outside the mainstream? How many have you heard about in your teacher trainings?

The history of the Tamil language and its literature is as equally rich as the Sanskrit language and its literature, but unless one travels to south India, it remains unfamiliar to many. I am grateful that my first experience of India was in the south and not the north. I am grateful that my first experience with the heart of yoga was in Tamil Nadu in the Krishnamacharya tradition and not in the ashrams of north India.

So I was glad to see Georg Feuerstein's review of a classic yoga text that was not written in Sanskrit and is not among the "big three" of classic yoga literature, although Mr. Feuerstein believes it should be right up there with them. It is my humble opinion that if a serious yoga student only sticks with the "mainstream" yoga literature, one will miss out on the vast richness of the yoga tradition.

For example, one of the texts given to us when I first studied at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram was Nathamuni's Yoga Rahasya. The Yoga Rahasya is an important text that was lost for many centuries. The revival of this text by Krishnamacharya brings us the teachings of Nathamuni, a 9th century yogi and Vaisnavite saint. Some of the concepts presented in this text include the importance of yoga for women, yoga practices to be done during pregnancy, the adaptation of yoga to suit people in different stages of life, and yoga as a tool in therapy. A 9th century yoga book that contains very modern yoga concepts.

A huge thank you to Brenda Feuerstein for giving me permission to reprint Georg's review in its entirety.


Tirumūlar`s Tirumandiram: A Tamil Classic on Tantric Kundalinī-Yoga

The Tirumandiram. T. N. Ganapathy, gen. ed. Ten volumes. St. Etienne de Bolton, Quebec: Babaji`s Kriya Yoga and Publications, copublished with Varthamanan Publications, Theyagaraya Nagar, Chennai, India, 2010. 3766 pages. $100.00 USD plus $50.00 S&H 10-volume set.

Review by Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D.

There are at least four Yoga scriptures that should have a place in any library of core Yoga works: Patanjali’s Yoga-Sūtra, the Bhagavad-Gītā, and the ten-chapter edition of the Hatha-Yoga-Pradīpikā of Svātmarāma Yodīndra, which are all composed in Sanskrit. The fourth scripture is Tirumūlar’s Tiru-Mandiram, which is written in Tamil. Until recently, the last-mentioned work was available only in a dubious English rendering, which I was reluctant to recommend to my students.

A dozen or so years ago, I expressed to Marshall Govindan (Satchitananda), president of Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Order of Acharyas, my earnest wish to one day see a competent English translation of the Tiru-Mandiram. I had no idea that my words would find a receptive ear. Govindan wasted no time to raise the necessary funds to assemble a team of Tamil experts to set about translating this text of no fewer than 3,047 recondite verses. After a decade of solid labor, Tirumūlar’s highly encrypted esoteric work was released in English at a gala celebration held in Chennai, India, on January 17, 2010.

I confess I was both awestruck and overjoyed when I unpacked the ten finely printed volumes of the Tiru-Mandiram translation, which came to me as an unexpected gift in a neat cloth-wrapped package from India. Immediately I started to look through all ten volumes and then settled on carefully reading word for word the third tantiram (“book”) of Tirumūlar’s composition, which deals specifically with primary yogic concepts. Being familiar with these teachings from the Sanskrit literature, I readily slipped into the rhythm of Tirumūlar’s poetic/devotional exposition and allowed him to carry my mind toward the lofty regions that seem to have been his spiritual home. Later, I read the remaining eight of nine books of the Tiru-Mandiram in their proper sequence, allowing Tirumūlar’s work to progressively unfold itself for me.

Based on the Tiruppanandal Kāci-t-tirumadam edition, the present translation with commentary, which runs into more than 3,000 pages, also made use of Dr. S. Annamalai’s 1999 critical edition of the text. The present edition of 3,000 copies is complemented by a DVD, which makes the text, translation, and commentary affordable to a larger number of people. As Marshall Govindan explains in his preface, the DVD also honors the Order of Acharyas’ commitment to “Green Yoga.”

What makes this edition singularly attractive is that in addition to a close-to-the-original English translation, Tirumūlar`s text is also reproduced in Tamil and in transliteration. I have personally found it inspiring to recite aloud some of the Tamil quatrains, appreciating their mantric quality and the melodious Tamil language.

In his General Preface, seventy-eight-year-old Prof. T. N. Ganapathy confesses that this massive project made him “stagger at times” and also made him wonder whether he was “attempting the impossible” (p. xix). This undertaking was complicated by the fact that certain traditionalist Shaivites objected to producing a commentary on Tirumūlar’s sacred work, especially in English. Humbly, Prof. Ganapathy, who served as general editor, states that the English commentaries accompanying Tirumūlar’s verses are not intended as a traditional bhāshya but claim only to furnish “clues and guidelines for understanding the richness of the spiritual mystical experiences of the saint.” “The commentaries,” he goes on to explain, “are meant to be guides, pointing to the goal, to the essence, but themselves are unrealized, mere descriptions of truth” (p. xxi).

Prof. Ganapathy’s team of translators and commentators comprised Shri T. V. Venkataraman (books 1-3), Dr. T. N. Ramachandran (book 4), Dr. KR Arumugam (book 5), Prof. P. S. Somasundaram (book 7), and Prof. S. N. Kandaswamy (book 8). Prof. Ganapathy himself was responsible for translating and commenting upon books 6 and 9, and he also edited the entire translation. He admits: “No translation can convey the literal sweetness of the original and its wonderful philosophical concepts and mystical emotion, which carry one away like a torrent or a tempest” (p. xxv). The Tiru-Mandiram is extremely recondite, and its verses are “most difficult to translate and interpret” (p. xxv). Prof. Ganapathy assures the reader, however, that the “translators have taken extreme care not to project certain pet theories and prejudices” (p. xxv) and to translate the verses as faithfully as possible, given their limited understanding.

In particular the present edition seeks to steer a neutral course between the two contending philosophical orientations to Tirumūlar’s work. The first is the strictly theistic (dualistic) interpretation of the devotional Siddhānta branch of South-Indian Shaivism. The second is the Tantric orientation, which is nondualistic and follows the pathway of the Siddhas. In the tenth volume, which contains various appendices and indices, the controversy about theistic/dualistic versus Tantric/nondualistic is taken up separately. As the overall editor, Prof. Ganapathy has allowed each translator his own voice rather than attempt to achieve “dull uniformity.” There is, however, a fundamental unity underlying the various translations, which he ascribes to Tirumūlar himself.

The following is a short synopsis of the nine books (tandiram) of the Tiru-Mandiram:

Book 1: Beginning with a 50-verse invocation of Lord Shiva, Tirumūlar next praises the Vedas and Āgamas and then offers verses on the guru tradition, fellow students, his own seven disciples (viz. Mālāngan, Indiran, Coman, Piraman, Uruttiran, Kālāngi, and Kancamalayan), and his own journey, followed by a section on Shiva’s relationship to the Hindu trinity (consisting of Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra). After these introductory stanzas, Tirumūlar proceeds to impart spiritual instruction about the path of attaining Shiva’s love, which leads to the opening of the “inner eye” and ultimately to absolute bliss.

Book 2: Commencing with 2 stanzas in praise of Sage Agastya, Tirumūlar then goes on to explain the mystical import of Lord Shiva’s eight heroic exploits and other deeds, as described in various Purānas, He also offers verses on the three categories of individuated being (Sanskrit: jīva), on worthy and unworthy folk, as well as on the desecration of temples. Tirumūlar concludes with a unique teaching about Shiva’s “downward face” (Sanskrit: adhomukha) by which he showers grace upon devotees.

Book 3: This portion, consisting of 335 verses, specifically deals with the eight-limbed Yoga first formulated by Patanjali and also with various Tantric practices. It strongly champions the Siddha tradition.

Book 4: Here Tirumūlar discusses various cakras (i.e., mandalas)—their construction and ritual use, and he dedicates 100 quatrains to describing the kundalinī-shakti.

Book 5: This book offers a description of the four ways to God realization—through the caryā, kriyā, yoga, and jnāna method—and the four stages of liberation to which they lead: sāloka, sāmīpya, sārūpya, and sāyujya. Tirumūlar also defines the three realities of Shaivism: pati (lord), pashu (soul), and pāsha (bondage). He also speaks of the four degrees of the descent of divine power (Tamil: catti-nipādam), known in Sanskrit as shakti-pāta.

Book 6: This short section talks about the guru, subject, object, and knowledge; renunciation, austerity; the attainment of knowledge through divine grace; hypocrisy; sacred ashes; the apparel of a penitent, a knower, and a Shiva devotee, which leads over into a discussion about who is fit or unfit for the spiritual process.

Book 7: This book explains the six props (ādhāra), worship of the guru, of Shiva’s linga, and of Shiva’s devotees; the microcosmic sun; the bindu; the soul, the enlightened one, and related matters.

Book 8: Here the states of experience on the spiritual path are explained at some length (in 527 verses). In verse 2370, Tirumūlar states that the end of the Vedas, the end of the Āgamas, the end of the subtle sound (nāda), the end of illumination, the end of the eight-limbed Yoga, and the end of the five subtle aspects (kalā) are all essentially the same, but only a pure individual can comprehend this. As verse 2381 states, these six endings occur in ecstasy (samādhi) where jīva becomes Shiva.

Book 9: This final book of the Tiru-Mandiram describes in mostly esoteric language the ultimate realization of Shiva (shiva-bhoga) and the state of liberated souls.

Tirumūlar, a fully realized adept (by his own testimony), was a master of Kundalinī-Yoga, who had been initiated into this method by Nandi, a North-Indian adept whose spiritual realization was such that Tirumūlar equated him with Shiva himself. His Tantric store house include mantra (sacred sound), yantra (graphic mantras), locks (bandha), seals (mudrā), breath control (prānāyāma) and the other seven limbs of Yoga, as well as ritual worship, the right-hand method of “bedstead Yoga” (paryanga-yoga), and various forms of initiation (dīkshā).

Tirumūlar’s description of diverse aspects of the kundalinī process leave no doubt that he had completely mastered this esoteric (Tantric) Yoga, which leads to the highest goal of emptiness (i.e., insubstantiality), or shūnya (Tamil: kaduveli). This is a reference to the indescribable infinite luminous space that is the ultimate Reality, Shiva. Little wonder that this kind of nondualist mystical language did not sit well with the dualist Shaiva Siddhānta adherents. It is, however, gratifying to know that thanks to the efforts of the late Sri Satguru Sivasubrahmuniyaswami (see Appendix One in vol. 10, pp. 3393-3449), the gap between the nondualists and the dualists (or, rather, pluralists) has been narrowed, which has led to a new appreciation of the spiritual genius of Tirumūlar and his extraordinary work among the Tamils.

Yoga-loving English speakers and the academic community owe an enormous gratitude to Marshall Govindan (Satchitananda) for initiating and sustaining this mammoth project, to his wife Durga Ahlund Govindan for her unstinting editorial and other support, and to Prof. T. N. Ganapathy and his team of translators and editors for successfully completing a truly monumental undertaking. One can only hope that the release of this complete rendering of the Tiru-Mandiram will end the relative neglect of the Tamil spiritual literature at the hands of Western scholars. The immense value of a careful study of this literature is overwhelmingly clear from the present work.

One problem area that deserves attention is Tirumūlar’s date. The editors generously placed him about 200 A.D., which is close to Prof. S. Dasgupta’s (first Indian ed. 1975, vol. 5, p. 19) proposed date for the saint (first century A.D.). But in light of the teachings, as they are now reliably accessible through the present translation, such an early date is highly improbable. A review is not the place to examine this chronological matter in detail. I would, however, like to proffer the following basic thoughts:

First, The age of the Shaiva Āgamas is a bone of contention between the Sanskrit-speaking North and the Tamil-speaking South. Tirumūlar himself (see verse 65) explains that Shiva expounded his teachings in both “Āriyam” (i.e. Sanskrit) and Tamil. But then he also hints (see verse 81) at himself taking to teaching the wisdom of the Āgamas in Tamil after having received them from his guru Nandi(deva) at Mount Kailāsha. This Nandi is mentioned in verse 62 as one of the recipients of nine Āgamas (listed in verse 63, which could have been interpolated), which he then transmitted to Tirumūlar. The Nāthas know Tirumūlar as Mūlanātha, a direct disciple of Adinātha (i.e., Shiva). The South Indian Siddhas regard Tirumūlar as the first promulgator of the new tradition of Yoga (nava-yoga), which Tirumūlar himself confirms (see verse 122). He calls this innovative teaching Shiva-Yoga (see verse 884).

Tirumūlar states in two verses that the Āgamas are countless (see verse 58), and that there were twenty-eight of them (see verse 57). Prof. M. S. G. Dyczkowski (1988, p. 5) observes that “there is no concrete evidence to suggest that any [Āgamas] existed much before the sixth century. The earliest reference to Tantric manuscripts cannot be dated before the first half of the seventh century.” He further notes that “the Śaivāgamas proliferated to an astonishing degree at an extremely rapid rate.”

Second, Prof. K. V. Zvelebil (repr. 1993, p. 73), who places Tirumūlar in the seventh century, says that the saint is mentioned in Cuntarar’s Tiruttonttokai, which Prof. Zvelebil assigns to the late seventh to early eighth century. If correct, this is a definite terminus ante quem.

Third, Tirumūlar refers to the Linga-, the Shiva-, and the Tamil Kanda-Purāna by name. The first-mentioned text has been dated to between 500 and 800 A.D. The Shiva-Purāna, which quotes the Linga-Purāna, must accordingly be of a later date. Prof. R. C. Hazra (repr. 1982, vol. 2, p. 261) suggested 600-1000 A.D., with some portions having been composed not earlier than 950 A.D. But these dates are conjectural, and the Shiva-Purāna could have been in existence one or two centuries earlier. The Kanda-Purāna was created probably as late as the fourteenth century, which makes this reference suspicious. Obviously, the Tiru-Mandiram has been subject to fairly extensive interpolation.

Fourth, according to Prof. D. G. White (1996, p. 76), who places Tirumūlar and his teacher Nandi in the sixth to seventh centuries, the “magical alchemy” of the Siddhas (see, e.g., verses 834 and 841) belongs to the period before 1000 A.D.

Fifth, in verse 563, Tirumūlar refers to 108 āsanas. This quatrain was very probably interpolated, as it suggests that Tirumūlar was aware of a fairly developed form of Hatha-Yoga, which would place him after the time of Goraksha—an unlikely date. Early Hatha-Yoga was focused on breath control and meditation rather than postures. It is, of course, possible that “108” symbolically stands for “a plethora.”

Sixth, Tirumūlar’s biography is given in the Periya-Purānam, which, according to Prof. L. Rocher (1986, p. 77), was composed in the eleventh century by Shekkilār, the minister of a Cola king. Interestingly, the Tiru-Mandiram refers to the Periya-Purānam twice (see verses 744 and 2113), which would seem to mark these stanzas as interpolations.

Given the above considerations, I would tentatively assign Tirumūlar to the period between 600 to 650 A.D. to allow sufficient time for his reputation as a Siddha to have spread and for Cuntarar to refer to him in his Tiruttonttokai. Placing him earlier would clash with widely accepted dates for the Purānas and the earliest Āgamas. Based on his teachings, I would intuitively have placed him closer to the time of Goraksha (eleventh century), but if Tirumūlar does indeed belong to the seventh century, we must conclude that he had access to early forms of sophisticated Tantric teachings (his guru Nandi’s).

At any rate, Tirumūlar was a premier teacher, who was chiefly responsible for disseminating Shaiva Tantric teachings to the Tamil-speaking world. Irrespective of his actual date, his teaching is of inestimable value and, in part, helps explain and complements the Sanskrit sources of North India.


Dasgupta, S. A History of Indian Philosophy. Volume 5: The Southern Schools of Śaivism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, first Indian ed. 1975.

Dyczkowski, M. S. G. The Canon of the Saivāgama and the Kubjikā Tantras of the Western Kaula Tradition. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1988,

Hazra, R. C. “The Purānas” in: Cultural Heritage of India. Vol. 2: Itihāsas, Purānas, Dharma and Other Sāstras. Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 1962.

Rocher, L. The Purānas. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986.

White, D. G. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Zvelebil, K. V. The Poets of the Powers. Lower Lake, Calif.: Integral Publishing, repr. 1993.

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Copyright ©2010 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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Bob Weisenberg said...

Thanks for this fascinating review, Linda. Are you going to order the ten volume set?

Just out of curiosity, where do the Upanishads fit into yours and Feuerstein's thinking?

I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks for the education.

Bob Weisenberg

Claudia said...

Thank you so much for this article, I am so curious now!, I will tweet, I hope we all get curious together! :-)

Rosetta said...

Always interesting to hear anything from the wonderful Georg Feuerstein. I have to confess that the depth, breadth, and esoteric nature of the Tirumandiram intimidates me more than a little. I would love to hear your own review for the average dedicated yoga teacher.

Thanks for the referral to Georg's site, which has many more interesting reviews:

Svasti said...

Added to my wishlist of future purchases (once I get a job again!)...