[Cekkilar] (12th Century / Kundrathur, Tamil Nadu / India)

Biography of Sekkizhar

Sekkizhar (Tamil: சேக்கிழார்) was a poet and scholar of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta, a Saiva saint contemporary with the reign of Kulothunga Chola II. He compiled and wrote the Periya Puranam (Great Purana), 4253 verses long,recounting the life stories of the sixty-three Shaiva Nayanars, the poets of Shiva who composed the liturgical poems of the Tirumurai. Sekkizhar's work itself became part of the sacred canon.


Sekkizhar was born in Kundrathur village in Thondaimandalam. He moved to Chidambaram in order to compose Periyapuranam. Among all the hagiographic Puranas in Tamil, the Periyapuranam (or Tiruttondar Puranam) stands first.

Kulothunga Chola II, then a young king, was a devotee of Lord Siva Natraja at Chidambaram and continued the reconstruction of the center of Tamil Saivism that was begun by his ancestors. However, he was also enchanted by the Jain epic Civaka Cintamani a courtly epic of erotic flavor in which the hero Jivaka marries seven damsels and gains a kingdom. In the end he realises the transiency of possessions, renounces his kingship and finally attains Nirvana.

When it is brought to his attention that the king has almost crossed over to Jainism, Sekkizhar is deeply disturbed and he exhorts the king to abandon the pursuit of impious literature and turn instead to the life of the Saiva saints celebrated by Cuntarar and Nambiyandar Nambi and the king thereupon invited Sekkizhar to expound the lives of the Saiva saints in a great poem. As a saiva saint, Sekkizhar knew about the lives of the saints and after he collected the data he wrote the poem in the Thousand Pillared Hall of the Chidambaram temple. Sekkizhar would himself sing the Periyapuranam and arouse the latent Chola Saiva zeal and successfully bring the king back in line.

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. The Periyapuranam is considered a fifth Veda in the Tamil and it immediately took its place as the twelfth and the last book in the Saiva canon.

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