In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Māṇikkavācakar

  • Introduction
  • General Reference
  • Influence on Kōvai Poetry
  • Māṇikkavācakar and Social Change
  • Māṇikkavācakar’s Festivals and Temple Life

Hinduism Māṇikkavācakar
Leah Comeau
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0159


Māṇikkavācakar (Manikkavacagar, Manikkavasagar, Manikkavachakar) is a Tamil poet-saint famous for his contributions to Śaiva devotional literature. He is also known by the name Tiruvātavūrār, which reflects the name of his hometown, Tiruvātavūr. Most scholars currently date Māṇikkavācakar and his poetry to the 9th century. He is often paired with the three poets famous for composing the Tēvāram hymns, Cuntarar, Campantar, and Appar. The four poets combined are referred to as the nālvar. In spite of his comparable status to the Tēvāram poets, he is not named among the sixty-three nāyaṉmār in the great Śaiva hagiography, the Periya Purāṇam. Images and statues of Māṇikkavācakar continue to be revered in Śaiva temples today. The iconography by which Māṇikkavācakar is most often identified is a short cloth (dhoti) tied around his waist, a palm leaf in his left hand, and his right hand in the raised posture of a teacher. Occasionally, he is seated. According to his hagiography, preserved in two texts—the Tiruvātavūrār purāṇam, composed in the 15th century by Kaṭavuḷ Māmuṉivar, and the Tiruviḷaiyāṭal purāṇam, composed in the 13th century—Māṇikkavācakar was born to a Brahmin family in a town south of Madurai. At a young age, he was invited to be minister in the Pandya court in Madurai. Following two miraculous interactions with Śiva at Peruntuṟai and Madurai, Māṇikkavācakar resigned from the Pandya court and settled north of Madurai in Chidambaram, a temple city in Chola country. While in Chidambaram, Māṇikkavācakar composed two devotional texts in praise of Śiva, the Tirukkōvaiyār and the Tiruvācakam. After the hymns were recorded by Śiva himself, Māṇikkavācakar is said to have disappeared into Śiva’s Golden Hall in the main temple in Chidambaram. Māṇikkavācakar and his poetry are celebrated today in festivals around South India and the world. The texts themselves are preserved in the eighth volume of the twelve-volume Tamil Śaiva canon, known as Tirumuṟai. Both compositions reveal Māṇikkavācakar’s talent for blending classical poetics, medieval literary devices, folk genres, and other stylized hymn formats to express his particular view of Śiva and Śaiva devotional life. Scholars and devotees continue to appreciate Māṇikkavācakar’s ambitious gradation of poetic, mythic, theological, and historical landscapes that demonstrate his exhaustive effort to engage with his god and his community.

General Reference

Zvelebil 1995 is an indispensable reference work that includes entries on Māṇikkavācakar, his hagiographies, and his poetry. In addition, it provides a bibliography, followed by most contemporary scholars, for the debates over Māṇikkavācakar’s dates. Counterexamples for Māṇikkavācakar’s origins are available in Narayana Ayyar 1974, Sivapriya 1996, and Vedachalam Pillai 1957. Marutapiḷḷai Āciriyar 1982 is a Tamil edition of Māṇikkavācakar’s 15th-century hagiography Tiruvātavūraṭikaḷ purāṇam. Shulman 1980 is a collection of myths attached to various sacred sites and corresponding deities in Tamil country and includes legends about the two most significant cities of Māṇikkavācakar’s hagiographies, Chidambaram and Madurai. In Civacupramaṇiyam 1987 and Civapātacuntaram 1984, contemporary Tamil scholars continue a long tradition of lively debates surrounding the details of Māṇikkavācakar’s life and his religious philosophies.

  • Civacupramaṇiyam, Kī. Vai. Māṇikkavācakar yār? (oru putiya kaṇṇōṭṭam). Viruttācalam, India: Śrī Kumāratēvar Maṭālayam, 1987.

    This short Tamil book, Who is Māṇikkavācakar? A New Perspective, uses evidence from Māṇikkavācakar’s life and hymns to argue that Māṇikkavācakar is a Vīra-śaivite.

  • Civapātacuntaram, Cō. Māṇikkavācakar aṭiccuvaṭṭil. 2d ed. Madras: Vāṉati Patippakam, 1984.

    In the Steps of Māṇikkavācakar is a Tamil biographical study of Māṇikkavācakar with special attention paid to locations associated with his life and poetry.

  • Marutapiḷḷai Āciriyar, Ci., ed. Tiruvātavūraṭikaḷ purāṇam. Cuḻipuram, India: Pajaṉaiccapai, Vaḻakkamparai, 1982.

    Tamil edition of Tiruvātavūraṭikaḷ purāṇam by Kaṭavuṇmā Muṉivar. Edited and with notes by Ci. Marutapiḷḷai Āciriyar.

  • Narayana Ayyar, C. V. Origin and Early History of Śaivism in South India. Madras: University of Madras, 1974.

    First published in 1939. Chapter 12, “Manikkavasagar” (pp. 398–443), is a point-by-point analysis of all the evidence related to Māṇikkavācakar’s date which is still referenced and debated today. Narayana Ayyar establishes a timeline for Māṇikkavācakar’s major life events, concluding that Māṇikkavācakar lived 660–692 CE. He uses this timeline to analyze verses from the Tiruvācakam.

  • Shulman, David Dean. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Śaiva Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

    Collection of myths attached to sacred sites and corresponding deities in Tamil country, translated from Tamil, Sanskrit, and some Telugu sources. Includes legends about the two most significant cities of Māṇikkavācakar’s hagiographies, Chidambaram and Madurai. Extensive excerpts are taken from Tiruviḷaiyāṭal purāṇam, which are stories about Madurai.

  • Sivapriya. True History and Time of Manikkavasaghar from His Own Works. Delhi: Thiruththondu Veliyeedu, 1996.

    English synopsis of Sivapriya’s multivolume Tamil work on the life and historical context of Māṇikkavācakar. The first part of the book covers Māṇikkavācakar’s hagiographic details, hymns, and festivals. The second part focuses on various dynasties and religious conflicts with some mention of literary history. Sivapriya dates Māṇikkavācakar to the 3rd century CE.

  • Vedachalam Pillai, Nagapattinam R. S. Māṇikkavācakar vālāṟum kālamum: St. Manickavachakar His Life and Times. Madras: South India Saiva Siddhanata Works Publishing Society, 1957.

    First published in 1930. Two-volume work in Tamil with an English introduction. The first part is focused on the life of Māṇikkavācakar, while the second part aims to describe the historical context in which Māṇikkavācakar lived. Vedachalam Pillai addresses both the major works of Tamil classical literature that preceded Māṇikkavācakar’s poetry, and the literature that followed. In his proposed timeline, Māṇikkavācakar lived in the 3rd century CE.

  • Zvelebil, Kamil. Lexicon of Tamil Literature. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

    Exhaustive reference work for Tamil literature, literary topics, and literary figures. Includes entries on Māṇikkavācakar, his poetry, his hagiographies, and bibliographic notes.

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