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Hounds of Shiva Paperback – 22 Jul 2018
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About the Author
Preetha Rajah Kannan is the author of Shiva in the City of Nectar, an enthralling collection of stories based on the revered Tamil text, Thiruvilayaadal Puranam and Son of Shiva, about the warrior-god Kartikeya, commander-in-chief of the heavens and epitome of wisdom and valour. She is also the editor of Navagraha Purana, a translation of the eponymous Telugu work on the mythology of the nine planets, by celebrated author V. S. Rao.Kannan has contributed extensively to newspapers and magazines, such as The New Indian Express and The Express School Magazine. A homemaker and a mother of two boys, she lives with her family in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
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In the yogic lore, the ganas are all Shiva’s friends. They were the ones who were always around him. Though he had disciples, a wife, and many other admirers, his private company was always ganas. Ganas are described as distorted, demented beings. It is said that they had limbs without bones coming out of odd parts of their bodies, so they are described as distorted and demented beings. They were just different from who we are.
Why could they be so different? This may be an aspect of life that is a little hard to digest now. See, Shiva himself has always been described as a yakshaswaroopa. Yaksha means a celestial being. A celestial being means someone who came from elsewhere. Somewhere over 15,000 years ago, Shiva arrived at Manasarovar, which is a lake in Tibet. It is one of the remnants of the Tethys Sea, which is considered as a crucible of human civilizations. Today, it is at almost 15,000 feet above mean sea level, but it is actually an ocean which has moved up and become a lake now.
The ganas, Shiva’s friends, were not like human beings, and it is clearly said that they never spoke any of the human languages. They spoke in an utter cacophony. When Shiva and his friends communicated, they spoke a language that nobody understood, so human beings described it as total, chaotic cacophony. But the ganas were the ones that he was really close with.
And you know the story of Ganapati losing his head. When Shiva came and this boy tried to stop him, Shiva took off his head. When Parvati became distraught and asked Shiva to replace the head, he took off the head of some other creature and put it on the child. This other creature is described as an elephant. But what you need to understand is, nobody called him Gajapati (Lord of Elephants). We always called him Ganapati (Lord of Ganas). Shiva took off the head of one of his friends and put it on the boy.
The ganas had limbs without bones, so this boy became Ganapati. Because in this culture, a limb without bones meant an elephant trunk, so artists made it into an elephant – but actually, he is not Gajapati, he is Ganapati. He got the head of one of the ganas, and Shiva made him the leader of the ganas.
mythology is a critical subject and more critical is it’s retelling as if you do not know the tale properly and cannot narrate it in a gripping way then the reader would not find it interesting. I feel it is just a cup of tea for Preetha Kannan for retelling mythology. and with this retelling of Sekkizhar’s Periyapuranam, truly the 63 nayanars have come into life and non- Tamilians have finally found a woman “Noah” who makes us travel in the sea of Tamilian tales.
Sekkizhar was born as Arulmozhithevan, meaning the one of the divine language. He was a native of Kundrathur village, a sub-division of Puliyur-kottam in Thondaimandalam. Sekkizhar was a child of precious genius and having noticed this, king Anapaya, that is Kulothunga Chola II appointed him as his Prime Minister on account of his talents. His life is celebrated by Umapati Sivacharya in his fourteenth-century work (1313 A.D) called Sekkizhar Nayanar Puranam. Sekkizhar anniversary festival is celebrated every year in the month of Vaigasi on his natal star Poosam.
Kulothunga Chola II, then a young king, was a devotee of Lord Siva at Chidambaram and continued the reconstruction of the center of Tamil Saivism that was begun by his ancestors. At the same time, he was very interested in the highly erotic Jain epic Jivaka Chintamani. Sekkizhar, upon noticing this, advised the king to instead turn his attention to the lives of the Saiva saints as described by Sundarar in his Tiruthondar Thogai.
The king thereupon invited Sekkizhar to expound on the lives of the Saiva saints in a great poem. Since Sekkizhar was a scholar in both the Vedas as well as the Agamas and being a Saiva saint himself, knew about Nayanars. He composed the Periyapuranam or the Great Narrative about the lives of the sixty-three Nayanars or saints and would himself sing it in the Thousand Pillared Hall of the Chidambaram temple and arouse the latent Chola Saiva zeal.
According to a folklore, when Sekkizhar sat pondering at Chidambaram temple as to how to begin his work, Lord Siva appeared and said his first verse should be:
Ulakellam unarnthu otharkku ariyavan
Nilavulaviya neermali veniyan
Alakil jothiyan ambalatthu aaduvan
malar chilambadi vaazhthi vanakuvom
He who is known to those who forsake attachments
He who is of plaited locks of hair in which river flows and baby moon grazes
He who is verily sublime light and who dances in the golden hall of Chidambaram
let’s worship his rosy anklet girt feet
Kulothunga Chola II was so moved upon hearing the Periyapuranam that he placed the poem and Sekkizhar on the royal elephant and took them out on a grand procession around the streets of Chidambaram, the king himself waved the fly-whisks and showered Sekkizhar with honors. This work is considered the most important initiative of Kulothunga Chola II’s reign. Although it is only a literary embellishment of earlier hagiographies of the Saiva saints it came to be seen as the epitome of Chola literary style. Among all the hagiographic Puranas in Tamil, the Periyapuranam (or Tiruttondar Puranam) stands first. The Periyapuranam is considered a fifth Veda in the Tamil language and it immediately took its place as the twelfth and the last book in the Saiva canon.
As its mahout goaded the mammoth royal elephant to the open space where Navukkarasu was held, the beast trumpeted in fury, knocking down walls and ornamental arches in wanton aggression. The earth shook under its tread and the crowd surged back in fear.
Navukkarasu fearlessly stood his ground asserting, “The Cosmic Dancer who wears a garment of elephant hide will protect me.”
The animal charged forward – only to stop short before the saint. In an instant, all aggression leached out of the beast. As docile as a lamb, the elephant circumambulated Navukkarasu, clumsily fell to its knees and raised its trunk in homage to him. Lumbering to its feet, it then carefully backed away from its intended victim.
Hounds of Shiva is a treasure house of tales with impassioned, heroic acts of sacrifice, devotion, and service in the lives and times of the Nayanmars – the sixty-three Shaivite saints who were exemplars of bhakti. Kannappa gouges out his eye to heal Shiva’s wound; Punitavati renounces her youth and beauty to follow the Lord as an emaciated ghoul; Siruthondar sacrifices his own son at Shiva’s command; Iyarpahai gifts his beloved wife to another man; Samandhar raises a boy from the dead; Poosal builds an intricate Shiva temple in his heart.
But the book’s hero is Lord Shiva, who assumes myriad disguises to sport with his devotees, blessing and testing them. Filled with astounding miracles, Hounds of Shiva is an untold tale of the Blue-throated Lord and a feast for the mind and soul.
the best part of the book is its beauty in language. I felt that the beauty of the language and lucid vocabulary of the author makes the book, truly a “masterpiece”. one cannot put down the book if you have started once. although the book is of 300 pages, you would at least two days if you are a fast reader- for completing the book, for you need to understand each line along with its complex narration and beautiful poetic renditions. another perk of the book is its philosophy. you would see a lot of beautiful ideas of philosophy hidden within tales. the way the battles and the other scenes are explained truly captures the full attention of the reader.
overall the book is in simple words a “masterpiece”. a perfect tapestry of myth and imagination. imaginative. intrigue. intense. I would recommend the book to all the mythology lovers and to everyone who loves fiction and want to dip into the ocean of ignored and deliberately watered down Tamilian tales.
Have you ever thought that what is the story behind the small Idols which are present in a Shiv Temple? If not then this is the book which will answer your all questions.
It includes the story of more than 35 Nayanmars out of the 63 Nayanmars. It includes the story of Punitavati- A true Shiva devotee who gave up her beauty for the love of Shiva, Nanda- who burned himself alive for the unconditional devotion towards his Lord Shiva, Iyarpahai- Who gave up his wife to fulfil the wish of a Shiva Yogi, Meiporul- who forgave his assassin just because he was in the attire of a Shiva Yogi, Kannapa- Who gouged his eye to heal Shiva’s wound, Sirothundar- who sacrificed his own son on the command of Shiva and a lot of other true Shiv Bhakts who turned to Nayanmars due to their true devotion towards Shiva.
I found the stories very interesting. Honestly, I had never heard before that there were even persons known as Nayanmars. Perhaps it was due to my being a north-Indian or perhaps some other reason. But when I got this book I immersed in it. I found the stories not only interesting but very inspiring. I think it is one of the best mythological books I ever read.
The writing style of the author is amazing, I found no flaws in it. The best thing I found was that it contained notes about various terms, places and other things which I found very useful as of being a North-Indian. I felt sometimes confused but the notes and glossary were there to help me always.
After reading the stories of more than 35 Nayanmars, now I want to read the stories of others also.
I found this book super interesting and recommend it to all as an interesting but inspirational book.
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