A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Sri Sundaramoorthy Nayanar – the ‘harsh devotee’

Today is the eleventh anniversary of my website  www.storibuzz.in. Pleased to present my 175th post on this day.

Mahashivaratri, being just a couple of days away, this time it is the story of Sundaramoorthy Nayanar, a devotee of Lord Shiva.

Also known as Sundarar or Sundara, his relationship with Lord Shiva was as a friend. This is called as “Sakya Bhava” – that is, behaving like a ‘Sakha’(friend).

Lord Shiva had an attendant named Aalala Sundara at Kailasa. One day, Aalala Sundara  happened to see two of Ma Parvati’s attendants, Kamala and Anindita. In a fraction of a second, he lost his heart to them and they both saw him and fell in love with him too. They were instantly summoned by Lord Shiva.

“Go!” He said with a smile to the three of them.  “Take birth on the earth and live through the relationship you wished for.”

Sundara and the maidens were taken aback. Leave Lord Shiva and Mata Parvathi and go and suffer on the earth? They refused, apologized and pleaded with the Lord to let them stay back at Kailasa. But Lord Shiva’s word was final.

Sundara then requested, “O Lord! When I live on earth, please do come and remind me at the apt time about my connection with You so that I do not forget You. I want to come back to serve You at the earliest”

“So be it!” said Lord Shiva.

On earth, a  beautiful boy child was born in the village of Tirunaavalur to the couple Sadaiyanar and Isaignaniyar who were ardent Shiva devotees . He was given his grandfather’s name “Nambi Aarooran”. He was  an exceedingly charming child and was therefore called ‘Sundara’ – the beautiful one.

Once when he was playing with his toy cart on the road, a regional chieftain Narasinga Munaiyaraiyar saw him and wished to adopt him. The parents agreed and Sundara grew up  in Munaiyarayar’s palace like a prince. Even then, he was educated very well in the Vedas and other scriptures. When he came of marriageable age, his alliance was fixed with the daughter of  Chadangavi Sivacharyar of Puthoor village.

 On the day of the wedding, Sundara, with his retinue reached Puthoor, and was seated on an ornamental dais in the wedding hall fully bedecked with garlands and ornaments.

Suddenly, at the venue, there appeared an old man. His forehead was smeared with Bhasma and his hair was fully white. Wearing big ear-rings and  a garland of Rudraksha beads, his upper body with the sacred thread was partly covered by a thin white cloth. A loin cloth covered his lower body. With an umbrella in one hand and a bamboo cane in another he slouched into the hall leaning heavily on his cane. A bunch of folded palm leaf scripts tied up with a Darba grass was being held tightly along with the cane.

 Just as the rituals were about to begin, the old man climbed on to the dais.

“Everybody present here, please hear what I have to say!” said he, in a loud voice.

Sundara and the other people smiled at him thinking that he was an invitee and was going to bless the couple. They signalled him to go ahead.

The old man looked at Sundara and said “There is an issue to be settled between you and me. Only after that, can you marry.”  Then, pointing at the perplexed Sundara, he said to the public, “This Sundara is my slave by way of an ancestral agreement. Only if he agrees to be my slave, he can marry!”

All the people present were puzzled, but were furious at this ridiculous claim. Sundara laughed aloud mocking the man. The old man trembling with anger, came nearer to Sundara and said, “Your grandfather signed an agreement that his progeny and their successors would be my slaves. How dare you laugh at that?”

Sundara replied arrogantly, “I have never heard of one person being slave to another. You are a mad fellow! Blabbering like a Pithan!”  (Pithan means mad man in Tamil).

The old man retorted, “Call me Pithan or Peyan (one who lives with ghosts) and I will not be ashamed. I can only say that you do not realise who I am. You are my slave as per this agreement signed by your grandfather on this palm script and that is it!” Saying thus, he brandished a palm leaf script out of the bunch he had in his hand.

Sundara was livid with anger. “Show me that palm leaf!” he said in a harsh tone.

“I will show it only to the learned members of the council who will decide this matter” said the man and started walking fast, balancing his upper cloth, the umbrella, the cane and the palm leaf script.

Sundara ran behind him, snatched the palm leaf from the man and tore it to pieces.

The man raised a big hue and cry shouting that Sundara’s action was unfair. All the elders gathered. Trying to ease the situation they asked the man where he was from.

“I am from Tiruvennainallur. But how is that relevant? The moment this fellow tore the palm script in a hurry without even reading it proves that he is indeed my slave” said the man pointing to Sundara. He continued, “Come let us go to Tiruvennainallur. The palm leaf script you tore was a copy. I shall show the original signed by your grandfather to the council of learned men at Tiruvennainallur and let us see  what they decide”. Saying thus he started walking so fast. So fast, that all the people including Sundara had to run behind him.

On reaching Tiruvennainallur, he called all the learned men there and put forth his case. The men said, “We have never heard of the practice of one being a slave to another in this land of ours. It is indeed strange!”

But the old man insisted that he had the original palm leaf written in Sundara’s grandfather’s handwriting. He went one step further asking for assurance from the elders that the original should not be snatched and torn by Sundara as he had done with the previous one. When the elders assured him, out of his cummerbund, he took out another palm leaf with the ‘actual handwriting’ of Sundara’s grandfather.

He then told the people  to go to Sundara’s village and get some record with his grandfather’s handwriting so they could compare the writing and satisfy themselves. Immediately a messenger was sent to Sundara’s village and from the land records, a palm leaf script with Sundara’s grandfather’s handwriting was brought. And the handwriting exactly matched with the one in the palm leaf the old man had!!

The palm leaf script read as follows:

 “This is an agreement written by me, Aarooran with full understanding that myself and my successors will all be the slaves of Tiruvennainallur Pithan – Signed Aarooran”.

Now all the elders believed the old man. They told Sundara that he could no longer disagree since there was ample proof by way of a document clearly signed by his grandfather.

With great reluctance Sundara had to agree to the decision. Then, looking at the old man he said, “You said you have been living in this place for many years. Show me your residence”.

“Come with me!” said the man  leading Sundara and the others. Leaving his wooden footwear outside the Shiva temple there, he entered into the temple and just vanished into thin air right in front of their eyes.

All of them were shocked at his disappearance and stood rooted. But Sundara went into the temple to search,  when Lord Shiva, with Parvati Devi on his Rishaba Vahana, appeared at a height and said, “Sundara, I came at the apt time, to remind you as to who you are, as per your request”. Sundara, in a flash, remembered his memories of Kailasa and the incident which had brought him to this life on earth.

Overwhelmed by the mercy of Lord Shiva, he felt so ashamed of having heckled, mocked and chased the Lord and calling Him names.  With tears streaming from his eyes, he was lost for words.

Lord Shiva continued. “You will be referred to a ‘Van Thondan’ or ‘harsh devotee’ since you spoke harsh words to me. But now, you will sing for me, as music is the offering I love most”.

Sundara lifted both his hands above his head in total surrender and said “O Lord, unknowingly I behaved in such a rude manner with You. Still, you have blessed me abundantly and are requesting me to sing for you!  I know no music or poetry. How do I start?”

Shiva smiled again. “Start with the same word you used to scold me – Pitha!”

And words flowed from Sundara’s mouth like a fountain. He sang his first verse “Pitha! Piraisoodi Perumaane! Arulaala!  (The mad one, the one wearing the crescent moon and the most merciful…). This was followed by nine more verses. This was his Sundara’s first Thevaaram.

With this, the wedding of Sundara was called off  as the bride chose to become an ascetic devoted to Lord Shiva for the rest of her life.

Sundara thereafter travelled to many abodes of Lord Shiva and sang verses on the presiding deities there. The verses are called ‘Thevaarams’. There are also accounts of his performing miracles by the Grace of Lord Shiva . Sundarar finds a place in the foremost three Nayanmars referred to as ‘Thevaara Moovar’ and is also part of the “Naalvar’(foursome) which includes Manikkavasagar as well.

A major contribution of Sundarar was the compilation of the list of the 63 great Shiva devotees in the form of a song known as ‘Tiru Thondar Thogai’.  This phenomenal work was assigned to him by Lord Shiva by giving him the first line of the song. Based on this song of Sundara,  Sri Nambiyandar Nambi wrote the ‘Tiruthondar Tiruvanthaadi’ in the 11th century CE and later on Sri Sekkizhar Peruman wrote the Periya Puranam which details the life history of the Nayanmars.

The two maids of Parvati Devi were also born on  earth as Paravai Nachiyar and Sangiliyar  and later, with Lord Shiva’s grace,  Sundara married them both one after another and lived with them.

Sundara always treated Lord Shiva as his best friend and did not hesitate to ask him for anything he needed, be it financial or physical help. He even went to the extent of sending Lord Shiva as a messenger to pacify his first wife when he had a tiff with her!

When Sundara had had enough of worldly life, he requested Lord Shiva to allow him to come back  to Kailasa and the Lord  sent a white elephant to bring him. Sundara cast off his mortal coil and went back to Kailasa where he belonged. Paravai Nachiyar and Sangiliyar also went back to Parvati Devi after their worldly life. Sundaramoorthy Nayanar’s time is estimated to be late seventh century CE.

I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful well-maintained temple at Tiruvennainallur (where Lord Shiva entered and vanished) in January this year. This is near Villupuram on the Chennai-Trichy route. The featured picture was clicked by me at that temple and shows the old man standing opposite to Sundara and arguing in front of the learned men.

Om Namah Shivaya!!


Tatam Tatamtam Tatatam Tatam Tah


The clever wife – A folktale from South India


  1. Satish

    Beautiful story. I have read about Appar and Thirugnanasambandar (the famous story of Vedaranyeswarar temple gates opening and closing with singing from Appar and Thirugnanasambandar) but not much about Sundarar and Manikkavasagar. These 4 are the highest devotees of Lord Shiva and as you rightly said they are called “Naalvar”. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. Om Namaha Shivaya !!!

    • Thank you for your kind words Satish ji! I have written two stories of Sambandar and Appar (Tirunavukkarasar) in the blog. You can search and read them. Thank you once again!

  2. Sripriya Ramesh

    Vidhyaa Pramadham. As always! Brought everything alive in front of our eyes. Lucid writing. Thank you. Congratulations!

  3. Gomathi S

    Beautifully narrated as usual. Thank you Vidhya.
    Best wishes for your stoibuzz and continue to do the good work.

  4. Vidya Sethuraman

    Very beautiful story. Enlightening one, I read to my son yesterday.

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