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The name Tevaram refers to the first seven volumes of the canonical texts of Tamil Shaivism, Panniru Tirumuṛai, the 12-volume collection of Shaiva devotional poetry. Consisting of 800 sacred hymns to the Hindu God Shiva, Tevaram dates back to the 7th and 8th century. Attributed to the authorship of three Tamil Shaivite saint-poets (Nayanmars) Sambandar (also known as Tirugyanasampandar), Appar (also called Tirunavukkarasar) and Sundarar – all three collectively known as Muvar (The Three).
Tevaram is a living tradition in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Recited regularly in the homes of Tamil Shaivite families and Shiva temples, Tevaram preserves the integrity of its words in verses through the musical mode known as Panmurai. Tevaram’s exquisite poetry of passion and intensity is characterised by intense emotional Bhakti.
The traditionally printed books of Tevaram are available in two different arrangements: the Panmurai arrangement, where the hymns are organised according to musical modes; and Talamuṛai, where the hymns are ordered according to the sacred sites. The Muvar walked to the Shiva temples one by one and composed individual hymns in praise of particular manifestations of Shiva often referring to the temple myths, the sacredness of the site and trees unique to the temples.
Since most of the Muvar Tevaram are composed in praise of temples situated in the upper and lower banks of the river Cauvery, the Talamuṛai arrangement and recital of Tevaram in that order are considered to be a pilgrim’s journey on the banks of the river Cauvery.
In the 10th century, during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I, Tēvāram palm leaves were found to be abandoned in a locked room of Chidambaram Nataraja temple. Nambiyandar Nambi collated them all along with other religious texts and Raja Raja Chola I established the institution of Ōduvārs, a sect of Śaivite singers, specifically to recite Tēvāram in Śiva temples. The 276 temples revered in these verses are called pātal peṛṛa talaṅkaḷ, and another 256 places mentioned in the verses are called vaipu talaṅkaḷ.
Bhakti is the great, many-sided effect in Hindu / Indian religion.
For the author of devotional literature, it is a shift of attention from the object to the subject as the poet is not an observer but a participant. It is a shift from passive modes of reception to active modes of proclamation. It is also a shift from seeing and hearing to touching.
This performative aspect of emotional Bhakti is very much evident in the verses of Tēvāram. The entire collection of Paṉṉiru Tirumuṛai along with the translations in English, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi are available online with recorded recitals in Tamil at thevaaram.org.