This is the story of another of the famous Nayanmars, Tirunavukkarasar. Tirunavukkarasar literally means ‘Ruler of the tongue’ (speech) and this title was bestowed upon this Nayanmar by Lord Shiva himself. He is counted as one of the ‘Nalvars’ or foursome who extensively sang on Lord Shiva.
In the 7th century AD, in the village of Tiruvamur, in Tamilnadu, there lived a pious farmer couple Pugazhanar and Madiniyar. The couple were very devoted to Lord Shiva and they were blessed with two children, the elder daughter named Tilakavathi and the younger son who was named “Marulneekki” which means ‘dispeller of darkness’. Both the children took after their parents as far as the devotion to Lord Shiva was concerned. Both of them were very intelligent and excelled in whatever they did.
In course of time, when Tilakavathi was nearing twelve years of age, her marriage was fixed with an army general by name Kalippahayar. He was working as the army commander of the Pallava King during that time. However, before the marriage took place, duty beckoned Kalippahayar and he was sent for battle by his king. He promised to return after the battle and marry Tilakavathi.
Meanwhile Pugazhanar contracted some incurable disease and passed away unexpectedly. Madiniyar, who could not bear the separation of her husband also died shortly.
The loss of both parents at once came as a great shock to the young children. Anyway there was a ray of hope that Kalippahayar would return and marry Tilakavathi and they would become part of a new family. But that ray was shattered with the news that followed shortly that Kalippahayar had died a martyr fighting for the country. The children were plunged in grief once more.
Tilakavathi was heartbroken and wanted to die as she felt that Kalippahayar would have been her husband had he not died in the battle and that she belonged to him. However, Marulneekki pleaded with his sister not to do so as he would be orphaned in totality and said to her, “Sister, from now, I look upon you as my mother and father. You are everything to me. If you die, I shall also commit suicide.”
Tilakavathi was moved by his plea and gave up the idea of killing herself and did not marry anyone. She decided to live her life as a spinster, doing service to Lord Shiva in His temples. They donated the wealth earned by their parents but Marulneekki’s mind was not in peace at all. He went in search of solace for his disturbed mind. His wandering brought him to Pataliputra and he was influenced by the Jain monks there. He stayed there and learnt all their scriptures and became the head of the monastery with the name Dharmasena. He also became close to the king who followed Jainism.
Meanwhile Tilakavathi who had also grown old, left her village and relocated to the place called Tiru Athikai on the banks of river Gedila and built a small ashram and served the Lord Shiva in the temple by sweeping and mopping the temple, plucking flowers and making garlands for the Lord. She felt extremely sad that the brother for whom she had lived this life had embraced a different faith and was living somewhere. She would however try to dissolve her grief in praying to the Lord Shiva.
One day Marulneekki had a terrible stomach ailment like intestinal colic. He was administered lot of medicines by the monks in the monastery but all of that was of no avail. They read scriptures and chanted mantras to cure him but there was not a bit of improvement in his condition. In fact it worsened and he was suffering excruciating pain. It was at that time that he suddenly remembered his sister. He sent two messengers to his hometown, and they, on reaching there found that she had moved to the nearby Tiru Athikai, went and told her the matter. They also said that Dharmasena (Marulneekki) wanted to see her and that she should accompany them. However, Tilakavathi, a staunch Shaivite as she was, refused to come to the monastery and told them that if her brother wanted to see her, he should come to her place.
When Marulneeki (Dharmasena) heard the news, he felt guilty and with the suffering and agony, left the monastery alone in the night and reached his sister’s place in a few days with great difficulty.
On seeing Marulneekki after so many years, the motherly instinct in Tilakavathi would not let her be angry. She welcomed him with open arms and was in pain to see him suffer with the stomach ailment. She taught him the Panchakshara mantra and after applying the Vibhuti, took him to the presence of Veerattaneswara, the presiding Lord Shiva of Tiru Athikai.
The moment he entered the sanctum sanctorum, there was a transformation in him and he broke into a verse “Kootrayinavaaru vilakkagileer” and sang ten verses impromptu. He realised then that his stomach ailment had vanished. He then heard a divine voice saying “You are Navukkarasar”(King of speech). He then travelled to many Shiva temples singing verses which are called ‘Thevarams’.
The Jain monks were in the meanwhile very disappointed that their head had left them to embrace Shaivism and therefore, they went to the king and complained about Dharmasena saying that he had pretended to have a stomach ache in order to go back to his religion. Navukkarasar was then subjected to many punishments by the king, through all of which he came out unscathed, including being thrown into the sea tied to a big stone.
Navukkarasar then travelled to Sirkali to meet Thirugnana Sambandar ( see Thirugnana sambandar story). Sambandar was a young boy whereas Navukkarasar was in his fifties. However, the moment he saw the divine Sambandar, he prostrated at Sambandar’s feet and Sambandar, lifting him up called him “Appare..” (O father!!) from which time Navukkarasar is also known as Appar.
Appar spent his life in service to Lord Shiva. He was involved in resurrecting many temples in South India and led groups called ‘Uzhavarappadai’ to clean dilapidated temples. His pictures depict him with the spade like tool he used to clean the temples and remove the weeds. He has composed about 5000 hymns sung at about 126 abodes of the Lord, but we have about 300 hymns only traced today.
His hymns have created miracles as in the life of Appoodhi Adigal (see Story of Appoodhi Adigal), when the son of Appoodhi Adigal was brought back to life. In fact in his own life, when he was subjected to severe punishments by the king, like being thrown in a lime kiln, he sang the hymn, “Maasil Veenaiyum” where he describes the cool shade of the Lord’s feet . When the hot kiln was opened after seven days, he was not a wee bit burnt, but was in blissful meditation. Similarly, when he was thrown into the sea with a huge boulder tied to him, he sang “Sotrunai Vediyan” whereby the boulder, instead of sinking, floated like a wooden boat and he came ashore.
Navukkarasar, whom out of respect is referred to as Tirunavukkarasar lived upto the age of 81 till his union with Lord Shiva.