It is no wonder that the stories of the sixty-three saints (Nayanmars) in the Sanskrit text of Sivabhaktavilasam should become well known through Bhagavan Rmana. Was he not as a youth inspired by Peria Puranam, the Tamil Version of the same, and only shortly later prayed that his love for the Lord be perpetual like that of those devotees?
Remarkably, Sri Bhagavan had scanned through the various versions of Peria Puranam in Sanskrit to deliniate all those incidents connected with the Nayanmars that are not found in the Tamil text. The spellbound audience was transported to the actual scenes of those events when he narrated them in his own inimitable style of acala tandava, motionless dance. He even copied down punctiliously all those relevant verses from the Sanskrit text (See Appendix 1 & 2). These stories were little known then, yet they carry a profound significance by being closely related to his own birthplace (Tiruchuli-A vartapuram: see Appendix I) and the course of his spiritual journey (Arakandanallur- Kantapuram: see Appendix II). The table of contents prepared by him is a stamp of the Lord's approval to the work. It is reproduced here as a token of his grace.
The present work describes the glorious stories of the devotees of Siva renowned as Nayanmars. It starts off just like most Puranas - Sri Suta Mahamuni expounding the spiritual stories from the inexhaustible book of his illumined recounts to them sage Upamanyu's narration of the lives of Sivabhaktas as told by the Sage Agastya. In the next few chapters we see the description of the mystic manifestation of Sundaramurti from the Lord's reflection at His command, and the lucid portrayal of the events culminating in this 'handsome' mirror image attaining the title 'Halahala' as a prefix to his beautiful name - Sundara. The chapters following narrate stories similar to Peria Puranam.
We also see some other additional accounts in the beginning, such as Siva manifesting as Somaskanda to "Visnu and the subsequent transfer of this image through the hands of Indra and Mucukunda and its final installation as Tyagesvara Lingam in Kamalalayam (Tiruvaroor).
Off all the special features of this text, the altogether outstanding ones are seen either as sections of chapters (1, 2, 17) or whole chapters (103, 104). Herein are outlined the sacred teachings of Parama Siva the adi guru, to sages ripened by devotion. The Lord firmly establishes that Self-Knowledge bestowing the supreme beatitude is vouchsafed only to His sincere devotees. The teachings and philosophy are a reflection of Bhagavan Sri Ramana's.
The importance of bhakti in the spiritual path has been well established. Sri Ramana described bhakti as Jnana mata i.e. mother or begetter of knowledge. This aspect for him seems to be fulfilled, of its own accord, through the reading of Periapuranam, prior to obtaining Self Knowledge. In the introduction to Srimad Bhagavatam we read that Sri Veda Vyasa even after compiling the Vedas, writing the Puranas and Brahma Sutras could not attain firm abidance in the Self. Sage Narada observed that, though "Vyasa's spiritual achievements included aspects of karma, yoga and Jnana, the lack of devotional fulfilment caused restlessness of his soul. Thereupon, Vyasa wrote the great devotional classical Srimad Bhagavatam, portraying the sportive deeds of Saguna Brahmam (Lord with attributes) and the glorious accounts of His devotees, and thereby attained abiding peace.
I try hard not to come in the way of the Sivabhaktas herein and the reader. Let the latter discover for oneself the multitude of bhavas (feelings) and the myriad experiences each saint would offer and unfold in his unique way. The theme is navarasa manoharam - plunderer of heart with a rainbow of colorful emotions.
Back of the Book
Devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi are well aware that he was profoundly influenced by the Periapuranam containing the lives of the Nayanmars, the sixty-three Saivite Saints. Even after realizing the Self he prayed before the images of the Nayanmars at the Meenakshi temple that he may become a devotee like them.
Sivabhakta Vilasam is similar to the Periapuranam and gives an account in Sanskrit of the lives of the Nayanmars. It has it origin in an episode in Kailasa when a congregation of rishis saw a brilliant light descending before them. Maharshi Upamanyu explained to the assembled rishis that it was Sundar, the preeminent Nayanar who came in that form. He also revealed the names stories of all the sixty-three Nayanmars. This account by Maharshi Upamanyu was later given to others by Sri Suta Muni and Agastya Rishi.
The present translation of Sivabhakta Vilasam into English is by Lingeswara Rao, a fellow devotee. He has also translated the work into Telugu.
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