Number Symbolism in Tamil Tirumular’s Tirumanthiram and Rigveda-1 (Post No.10,800)


Post No. 10,800

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Tirumular is one of the Saivite Saints who lived around ninth century CE. He is the author of Tirumanthiram. The book has 3000 stanzas in Tamil dealing with many spiritual matter including yoga. He is one of the 18 Siddhas. Tirumular used number symbolism like the Rigveda. Here are a few examples

V R Ramachandra Dikshitar of Madras University says in his book ‘Studies in Tamil Literature’ (year 1930),

“The name of this great author stands perhaps unrivalled in the domain of Tamil writers in general, and of mystic ones in particular. His work Tirumanthiram is a masterpiece in itself dealing with a variety of subjects numbering over 400 themes. It speaks of both possible and the impossible, the practicable and the impracticable, great as well as trivial things.

The following out of many could be quoted as typical illustrations of its mystical tendencies. In what is known as Sunya sampasanai chapter of  Tirumanthiram it is said that when the brinjal/aubergne seed was planted, pakal /bitter gourd of bitter taste, grew out of it

When the earth was dugout, a poosani/pumpkin appeared. The gardeners ran to fetch them. But it was a banana that was fully ripe. This is the literal meaning of a stanza.

But what underlies this is of enormous importance. The brinjal/aubergine in Tamil is Kaththiri which also means a pair of scissors. According to the Hindu Yoga treatises, there are two main tubes through which the life breath passes in and out, running diagonal wise down from the toe of the foot to the nostril. By controlling and regulating the passage of air through these tubes by means of Praanaayaama, a man is enabled to attain the state of Vairagya. That is when the mind ceases to function, and is at rest, it is easy to realise God. The banana fruit refers to the salvation of the soul or Moksha in Sanskrit.


Another stanza says,

There are five cows in the Brahmin’s house. They roam astray. If they are controlled by a proper herdsman, then all the five would furnish plenty of milk. The mystic interpretation is that a person who wishes to attain the eternal enjoyment of bliss, should keep his five senses under strict control and watch.


Again it is said that

The boat is taken to the shore by the steersman for commercial purposes. If in the middle of the way, the keel gives way, the consequence is easily imaginable. This poem expounds the great truth contained in what is known in Sanskrit philosophy ‘Thou Art That’ . Here the body is the vessel on which the Jivatman or the Individual Soul travels to the place where the Paramatman or the universal soul is, there to become united with it. In plain words the body is the vehicle for the attainment of salvation.

Thus a careful examination of these three stanzas manifests clearly that the mysticism here is not only formal, but also material. The language is obscure, and the matter also not easily intelligible.


My comments

Rig veda is full of such enigmatic mantras. Foreign translators were not practising Hindus. So whenever some enigmatic or mystic matter came in the mantras , they said the meaning is obscure, perhaps some other stanzas got jumbled or may be interpolation from other sources.

Let us compare it with one mantra in RV 1-164

This hymn is full of number symbolism


Two birds with fair wings, knit with bonds of friendship, in the same sheltering tree have found a refuge

One of the twain eats the sweet fig tree’s  fruitage; the other eating not regardeth only

(Mundaka Upanishad and Svetesvatara Upanishad repeat this; full details are in my article THREE APPLES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD written in 2011)

It is about two birds sitting on a tree and one eating the fruit and the other being a passive observer. The same matter comes in Upanishad as well. Kanchi Paramacharya (1894-1994) was the one who pointed out the philosophical meaning behind it. It is the basis of Adam/Atma and Eve/Jeeve Atma story in the Bible. When they ate the apple, they committed a sin. That apple story is from the Rig veda and later Upanishad. Atma, with swapping of letters became Adam. Jeeve Atma became Eve. No one else saw this story in the Rigveda or Upanishad.

Number symbolism is found through out the Vedas. Without commentaries or explanations given by great people like Shankaracharya we would also struggle to get the real meaning.

Here are two stanzas from the Rigveda

Four are his horns, three are the feet that bear him; the heads are two, his hands are seven in number

Bound with a triple bond the steer roads loudly; the mighty god has entered into mortals

R V.4-58-3

Savitar thrice surrounding with his  mightiness mid-air, three regions and the triple sphere of light,

Sets the three heavens  in motion and the three fold earth, and willingly protects us with his triple law

R V.4-53-5


Tamil verses from Tirumular’s Tirumanthiram

”வழுதலை வித்திடப் பாகல் முளைத்தது
புழுதியைத் தோண்டினேன் பூசனி பூத்தது
தொழுதுகொண் டோடினார் தோட்டக் குடிகள்
முழுதும் பழுத்தது வாழைக் கனியே.”–  2868.

பார்ப்பான் அகத்திலே பாற்பசு ஐந்துண்டு

மேய்ப்பாரும் இன்றி வெறித்துத் திரிவன

மேய்ப்பாரும் உண்டாய் வெறியும் அடங்கினாற்

பார்ப்பான் பசு ஐந்தும் பாலாச் சொரியுமே” – திருமந்திரம் 2883

தோணி யொன்றுண்டு துறையில் விடுவது

வாணி மிதித்து நின் றைவர் கோலூன்றலும்

வாணிபஞ் செய்வார் வழியிடை யாற்றிடை

யாணி கலங்கி னதுவிது  வாமே

“Three Apples that Changed the World” | Tamil and Vedas › 2011/11/16 › three-apples-…

16 Nov 2011 — Adam and Eve’s apple story is actually a Hindu Upanishad story. … recognise the transformation of Atma into Adam And Jeeva into Eve.

To be continued………………………

tags-  Tirumular, Tirumanthiram, Number symbolism, Rigveda, Tamil verses 

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