Famous Saints of Saivism:
Saivism is a very ancient sect of Hinduism with a known
history of at least 3000 years. It is a historical fact that
though Saivism found its adherents in the early Vedic works such
as the Svetavatara Upanishad, it took shape mainly in southern
India in the remote past.
Many great devotees of Lord Siva who hailed from the land of
Tamils, enriched Saivism with their devotional fervor and
meritorious religious compositions.
They brought Hinduism out of the closed door policy of castism
by taking religion to the masses and teaching them the path of
selfless devotion as a way of salvation.
They countered the attacks from monastic religions like
Buddhism and Jainism, and defied the social order of their times
by often initiating people from the lowest castes into
They created a body of entirely new religious literature, of
great devotional merit and deep philosophical truths.
Just like many aspects of ancient Indian history, we have
little information about the early Saiva saints who shaped
Saivism into a great religious movement.
We come across few names like the famous sage Thirumula,
Agastya, Manickavasaga, Sundarar, Appar and Thirugnanasambandar.
They probably lived during post vedic and later Vedic periods.
They were ardent devotees of Lord Siva, and remembered in the
scriptures for their devotion and contribution to Saivism.
An ardent devotee of Lord Siva and a disciple of Nandi, he
lived sometime during the sixth century A.D, was endowed with
supernatural powers and composed about 3000 poems in the name of
First among the four greatest ancient teachers of Saivism, he
is considered as the founder of the path of truth or 'sat
marga'. Known for his intelligence from an early age, he
worked as a chief minister in the court of a Pandya king for
sometime before he became a true enunciate. Gifted with poetical
abilities, which earned him the title of Mannikkavachaka, which
literally means he whose utterances are gems, he composed many
songs in honor of Lord Siva. His work Tiruvachakam is considered
to be a pioneering work in Saivism.
A contemporary of the Pallava King Mahendra1, and reckoned as
the second greatest ancient teacher of Saivism, he lived about
7th Century A.D. He is credited with the discovery of dasamarga
or the path of the servant in Saivism. Originally a follower of
Jainism he became subsequently a great devotee of Lord Siva and
spent considerable time rendering bodily service (dasa seva) to
He also composed many poems out of which only a few are
available today. He is often compared to the legendary Prahlada
for his devotion to Lord Siva.
He was a disciple of Appar. He is considered as the third
greatest ancient teacher of Saivism, who found the path of
satputra marga or the path of the son and therefore he is
regarded as the father of the saiva sect.
A precocious child, he was dedicated to Lord Siva and Parvathi
from a very early age. He was blessed with the divine feeding of
the mother of universe, Parvathi.
He and Appar toured many places in South India and said to
have performed many miracles. He composed many beautiful poems
extolling Siva and Parvathi. But only a few poems are available
If Sambandha had a great teacher in the form of Appar, he also
had a great disciple in the form of Tirunilakanda Yalpanar who
accompanied him always in his tours and sing along with him.
Kannappa lived in the region near Kalahasti in the present day
Andhra Pradesh. A hunter by profession, he was totally dedicated
to Lord Siva. He worshipped Siva regularly every day, with
intense love, sometimes offering him such things as flowers and
Overwhelmed with intense devotion, once he said to have
plucked out one of his eyes and offered it to Lord Siva as a
symbol of sacrifice. He tried to pluck out the other eye also
immersed totally in his devotion, when Lord Siva said to have
appeared infront of him and prevented him from proceeding
He is the last among the four greatest ancient teachers of
Saivism. He founded sahamarga or the path of the friend. He led a
very unusual life. He became a renunciate just before his
marriage and thereafter traveled to many places singing songs in
praise of Lord Siva. But strangely after sometime, he married a
beautiful non Brahmin, maiden named Paravai.
He stayed with her for sometime as she was also a great
devotee of Lord Siva. But their association did not last for
long. A few miles north of Chennai, he married again, this time
to a Brahmin virgin. Subsequently he lost vision in both of his
eyes and said to have suffered greatly.
But he regained his lost vision through intense spiritual
discipline and devotion. He composed many thousands of devotional
poems of which very few are available today.
Her devotion to Lord Siva can be compared in someway with that
of Mira Bai, the famous devotee of Lord Krishna. Born into a
princely family, she was married to a wealthy merchant at an
Seeing her devotional fervor and spiritual yearning, her
husband decided to leave her to herself and married another
woman. But Ammaiyar, though devoted to Lord Siva from an early
age, could not overcome her traditional respect and love for her
But seeing her husband in his new role, she overcame that
afterwards and dedicated her life completely to Lord Siva. She
also composed many devotional poems which reflect the depth of
her devotion to Lord Siva.
Another famous woman saint of Saivism, she was endowed with
great literary talents and devotional fervor. She composed many
verses which immortalized her name in Tamil religious
A king by birth he sacrificed his life out of love for Lord
Originally a Buddhist, he later embraced Saivism and was said
to have been blessed with a vision of Lord Siva and Parvathi.
An untouchable by birth, he was a great devotee of Lord Siva
who won the recognition of many learned people and was even
admitted into the precincts of the Chidambaram temple which at
that time was not open to people from his caste.
Initiated into Saivism at the early age of three by a sage, he
is credited with the composition of the famous work
Siva-Jnana-bodham, which contains twelve famous Siva Sutras or
Meykandar is known in the history of Saivism as the seer of
Truth and his life is a shining example of knowledge and devotion
coming together in total dedication to God.
He became a disciple of Meykandar, after the latter opened his
eyes in a famous encounter to the world of devotion and
self-surrender. He composed Siva-Jnana-sittiyar, according to the
wishes of his guru, explaining the truths hidden in the aphorisms
of the latter.
Arundai Sivachariar also remembered in Saiva tradition for his
initiation of Marai-gnanasambandar into Saivism. The latter
though hailed from an untouchable caste was blessed with great
literary talent and devotional fervor.
Marai-gnanasambandar in turn initiated another famous Saiva
saint, named Umapathi Sivam and helped him attain
self-realization. Umapathi Sivam contributed greatly to Saiva
literature in Tamil. He wrote eight philosophical treatises on
Saivism, apart from a short biographical work on the famous 63
A rich merchant by birth, he turned to spiritualism in strange
circumstances when he realized that all his wealth would not
accompany him beyond his death.
He along with his princely friend Bhadragiri composed many
devotional poems, exhorting people to renounce their worldly ways
and enter the world of devotion and self-surrender. He lived
about tenth century in Tamilnadu.
He lived about fifteenth century. Early in his life, he led a
very sinful life, giving himself up entirely to the pleasures of
the world. But later a great transformation took place in him and
he became a great devotee of Lord Murugan, the first divine child
of Lord Siva. Tiruppugal is one of his famous compositions which
is known for its lyrical beauty and devotional depths.
He lived in the seventeenth century, and belonged to the
priestly family which was attached to the Siva temple at
Vedaranyam, in Tamilnadu. He lived and worked for some time at
the court of a Naik ruler from Tiruchinapalli, before he
renounced his worldly life and became a great devotee of Lord
Siva. He expounded the philosophy of Saivism from a Vedantic
point of view and tried to reconcile the existing
Mention may also be made of the five famous Lingayat Saints of
Virasaivism path, namely Sivaprakasa 1, Santalinga, Kumaradeva
and Sivaprakasa 2. They were men of great religious and spiritual
merit, who lived during the seventeenth century and composed many
religious songs and treatises.