Tamil Saint Pattinathar’s Warning

sadhu shank

By London Swaminathan
Post No. 955 4th April 2014.

Tamil saint Pattinathar warns us about the impermanence of life. He reminds us of the ‘three important chanks’ our family uses. Life is short and we must do everything good within that short period.

Pattinathar’s life was full of very interesting events. He lived in the tenth century CE. He was a rich man of a port city called Kaveri Poom Pattinam, also known as Pumpuhar in Tamil Nadu. He got his name from this city meaning ‘City man’ (Pattinathar). He was married but had no issue. So they took a child that was left uncared for in a garden at Tiruvidaimarudur. The child was given the name Marudaipiran. As he grew up, one day he came to Pattinathar’s wife, his foster mother, and asked her to give a parcel to Pattinathar. Later he disappeared. It was the box that changed his life.

When Pattinathar came home and opened the box with all curiosity he found an eyeless needle and a palm leaf on which a conundrum had been written. He considered that was a ‘special delivery parcel with a special message’ for him from Lord Shiva. Immediately he distributed his vast wealth to the poor and became an ascetic. He wandered far and wide and came to Tiruvotriyur to spend his last days. His thought provoking hymns are well known to Tamils.

lot women conch
In one of his poems he warns us that we must remember three sounds from the blowing conches at family events:

The first of the chanks feeds with milk
The second shackles us with women of dense locks;
The third is sounded to announce our death.
How much, Oh, how much is the weal of worldly life?

bengali blow

(Translation from Tamil into English was done by Sekkizar Adippodi Dr T N Ramchandran of Thanjavur).
The custom of blowing conches in the weddings was practised by all the Hindus until a few centuries ago. Now Bengalis only use Chanks (conches) in all the ceremonies. Andal, a famous Tamil poetess, mentioned about blowing conches in the Tamil weddings 1300 years ago. Hindu mothers used conches (chanks) to feed the babies with milk. Now this practise is also dropped after the introduction of feeding bottles. Just to attract the attention of the child, they used to play blowing chanks in the olden days. Blowing conches is practised during the funeral procession in certain parts of the country even today.

So the last of the three sounds will be heard only by family members, because it will be our last journey.


A V Subramania Aiyar, in his book ‘The Poetry of Tamil Siddhas’, compared him with another Siddha (enlightened soul) Sivavakkiyar. He aptly commented about Pattinathar’s poems:-

“As a Saiva mystic and saint Pattinathar has been held in great veneration. His poems are happily free from the violent denunciations of idol worship, temples, rituals, caste, Vedas, Agamas etc. which Sivavakkiyar indulges in. He has shown an excessive desire to extol the virtues of unqualified asceticism and Yogic mysticism in language that that can be understood by the masses. He shows leanings towards Bhakti in his later poems. As a poet he is far superior to Sivavakkiyar. Pattinathar has a greater command over imagery and language. His poetry has sweetness, simplicity and emotional appeal. He has sung of his religion and philosophy with freedom, vigour and breadth of outlook. He has good mastery over form, especially Ahaval metre, in which some of his most brilliant poetical passages have been written. Pattinathar is the most widely read Siddhar in the Tamil language”.

conch 4

I would recommend the following two English books for non Tamil readers:
The Poetry and the Philosophy of THE TAMIL SIDDHAS by A.V. Subramania Aiyar, published by S.Mahadevan, Tirunelvely, Year 1957; St.PATTINATHAR, Tamil Text with English Translation by Sekkizhaar Adippodi T N Ramachandran, International Institute of Saiva Siddhanta Research, Dharmapura Adhinam, Dharmapuram, MAYILADUTHURAI 609 001, Year 1990.

Polynesian Man Blowing Conch Shell

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