sundaranAtha (tirumUlar)’s lineage

In the preamble to the tirumantiraM tirumUlar (verses ) gives his lineage thus (translated only loosely during conversation with my clansmen who know the drAviDa bhASha/transliterated from a reading in an old book possessed by them):

n^an^dhi aruLpeRRa n^Adharai n^ADiDin
seek the nAtha-s (tantric adepts) who have attained the grace of nandin,

n^an^dhikaL n^Alvar chivayOka mAmuni
The 4 nandins, and then the muni shivayogI,

manRU thozudha padhanychali viyAkramar
pata~njali of the holy temple and vyAghrapAda,

enRivar ennO DeNmaru mAmE (TM 67)
and with I complete you count to eight.

Thus we have 4*nandin-s -> shivayogi -> pata~njali -> vyAghrapAda -> sundaranAtha (tirumUlar).
This fascination with nandin prevades the whole of the tirumantiram

For example we have in the preamble:
n^an^dhi aruLAlE n^AthanAm pErpeRROm
By the grace of nandin I attained the name amongst his nAtha-s,

n^an^dhi aruLAlE n^Adhanai n^ADinOm
By nandin’s grace I sought the first nAtha,

n^an^dhi aruLAva dhencheyum n^ATTinil
What can I not do with nandin’s grace.

n^an^dhi vazikATTa n^Anirun^ dhEnE (TM 68)
With nandin showing the way I remain here in the [guru-lineage].

Further we find vinAyaka apparently called nandin’s son in the introductory invocation:
n^an^dhi makanRanai nyAnak kozun^dhinai
pun^dhiyil vaiththaDi pORRukin REnE
nandin’s son, a bloom of knowledge
I meditate on him and worship his feet.

We do not know for certain if this preamble of the tirumantiram was added later, but my sources believe that on linguistic grounds it should be considered an integral part of the text. This tradition of attributing a lineage to nandi does not follow the tradition of teachers of several well know tantras including shrividyA, where we see illustrious matsyendra nAtha. In a sense these lineages vaguely resemble, in concept, those stated for the krodhabhairava sUtras, siddha-yogeshvarI-mata, the glorious vishvAdya tantraM, which expound the mysterious yoginI-jAla of vishvA and the famed yoginI-jAla-shambara. However no tradition as that of tirumUlar is seen in any sanskR^it text. Nevertheless, the krodhAnala saMhitA of the krodhabhairava tradition is said to have been founded by nandinAtha and transmitted by him. Of which only the binduvijaya is supposed to survive in fragments. Amongst the drAviDa siddhAntin-s there is a belief that a part of the raurava Agama was transmitted by nandin; however, a lineage akin to that given by tirumular is not attested there to the best of my knowledge.

But the tirumantiram names nine tantras as a part of the tradition it received from nandin. These are described in verse 63 of the preamble as:
peRRan^al AkamaN^ kAraNaN^ kAmikam
uRRanal vIram uyarchin^dham vAdhuLam
maRRav viyAmaLa mAkuN^kAlOththaran^
thuRRan^aR chuppirany chollu makuDamE (TM 63)

All the tantras named here belong to the Urdhva-srotas emanating from ishAna or the upper head of the five-faced deva. They are divided into the 10 shiva Agamas and 18 rudra Agamas, both of which are seen in the nandin tradition of tirumular. They are:
principal shivAgamas: 1) kAraNa 2) kAmikA 4) chintya 8) suprabheda ; principal rudrAgamas: 3) vIra 5) vAtula 6) vimala 9) makuTa upAgama of the kiraNa tantra stream 7) kallottara.

It should be noted that within the tirumantiram a particular hierarchy of the siddhAnta tantras is implicit, with the above 9 being primary. This, however, is not mentioned in the surviving Sanskrit tradition. It again points to the fact that tirumular’s lineage was probably an early branch of the siddhAnta tantric tradition that possibly had its unique set of chosen tantras amongst the core shiva tantras and rudra tantras, which it considered primary. Thus, we encounter this verse:

Akamam onpAn athilAna n^AlEzu
There are nine Agamas that emerged in the ancient time
mOkamil n^AlEzu muppEtha muRRuTan
Then they split up into three paths
vEkamil vEthAn^tha chiththAn^tha meymaiyon
To display the truth of vedAnta and siddhAnta
RAka muTin^tha varunychuththa chaivamE (TM1429)
That is the secret knowledge of shuddha shaiva

The genuine connection of the siddhAnta Agamas and the tradition of tirumUlar is established beyond doubt in the discussion of the celebrated pa~nchAkSharI vidyA (namaH shivAya) seen in the verse 890 onwards. Here tirumUlar reaches the height of his work, describing at length the extraordinary vikR^itis of the pa~nchAkSharI and the numerous yantras derived from it. He also explains the harihara yantra, establish the archaic nature of this yantra/mantra and bringing memories of the ancient hariharAlayas of Angkor and Vietnam. In fact few of the yantra-s derived from the pa~nchAkSharI vidyA mentioned by tirumular are of utmost importance as an independent evidence because the Sanskrit originals are lost (though their fragments are very much retained in mantra manuals).

Taken together with references to other incidents veiled by mysticism, we may infer that around 500 AD Kashmirian, or Kashmir-trained shaiva tantric like sundaranAtha entered the drAviDa desha and seeded a tamil tradition. For this they claimed a distinctive lineage from nandin, which they might have inherited from a lost Sanskrit tradition related to krodhabhairava or derived it afresh in the drAviDa lands. They appear to have originally considered as authoritative a set of 8 principal Agamas and 1 upAgama of the siddhAnta srotas, and were also influenced heavily by the shrIkula tradition — of which we do not know which tantra-s they followed. However, from the form of the pa~nchadashi which is given by tirumUlar we may conclude that they were affiliated with kAdimata form of the shrIvidyA mantra, unlike most later Kashmirians and Himachalas who tended to follow the hAdimata. They were clearly vedic in affiliation, in that they held the veda as the highest authority and respected the vedic yAga-s, though for all practical purposes the Agamic religion dominated their thought. The important point to note here is that from an early period there was a symbiosis between various shaiva and shAkta tantric schools. Of the latter the dominant ones were kubjikAmata, shrIkula, kAlikula, and trikA.

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