TRAVELING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE DRAVIDIAN SIDDHAS
Roots of Ancient Dravidian Culture in Tamil Nadu - South India
South India and especially Tamil Nadu is not generally at the top of the list in the itinerary of tourists
visiting India (nor with North Indian tourists). Although, many business people involved in the high
tech computer industry from around the world go to Chennai for the expertise of South India’s
computer programmers. (South Indians continue to be disproportionately responsible for the
development of India’s computer industry.)
Tamil Nadu is the seat of ancient Dravidian culture and of a remarkable empire that once evolved
highly complex philosophies, poetry and literature, as well as magnificent architecture. Dravidian
culture extends to the states of Andra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Pudacherry as well as, Tamil
Historically, South India was never successfully invaded by any military, so it is the only location in
India that has enormous stone temple complexes taking up many acres dating back a thousand
years. Each Southern state has one or two such temples, but the majority are found in Tamil Nadu.
Also, all South Indian languages have their roots in Tamil, the language of Tamil Nadu.
FASCINATING & NOTEWORTHY
The influence of Dravidian religious culture and most especially architecture can be easily
seen in the Hindu stone temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia, in the stone Cham Temples of
Viet Nam and even in stone carvings in stone Hindu temples of Java, Indonesia.
menu and Viet Nam.
A City with Heart
Palani is the Spiritual Heart for Hindu Dravidians. Palani is a very open-hearted, open-minded town
which is uncharacteristically friendly for Tamil Nadu, (with the exception of Tiruvannamalai which
has seen many visitors due to the international appeal of the saints Ramana Maharishi, Ram Surat
Kumar and Seshadri Swamigal) who made Tiruvannamalai their home. It is the opposite in reserve
that most outsiders will encounter, for instance, in the famous temple town of Chidambaram.
Palani attracts thousands of pilgrims every day. (A photo of some of them at the temple can be seen
above. It should be noted that beards on men are quite popular in Tamil Nadu and they have no
bearing on pilgrimage procedure. Shaving the head and covering it with sandalwood paste is a part
of the ritual for some devotees. The elderly woman rolling sideways towards the temple entrance
has had a prayer answered and is showing her devotion.)
Background on the Siddha (Siddhar) Tradition
Those that follow the path of the Siddha tradition which is a philosophy and practice very similar to
Northern India Yoga, is not considered a religion. However, whether individual Siddhas agree with
inclusion or not, like Yoga, it is included by Hindus into their fold.
It is believed that the Siddha tradition was founded by early saints with extraordinary miraculous
abilities - originally numbering 18. The first Siddha is generally noted to have lived in the 7th or 8th
century, B.C. (Many scholars believe that North Indian Yoga was established through the South
Indian Siddha tradition.)
Siddhas (or Siddhars) are not necessarily monks and can marry if they wish. Orthodox monks and
ashrams have not been part of the traditional Dravidian culture although changes in this perspective
in some areas ,including Palani, in recent times have come about. However, traditionally orthodox
celibate swamis and monks have not been well received in Tamil Nadu.
Some Aspects of Culture & Government in Tamil Nadu
Another unusual characteristic that people from North India or those who have spent time in North
India will see, is the wearing of ocher cloth by non-religious lay people. For those accustomed to
greeting swamis or monks in North India according to the ocher robes, ocher kurda etc, this requires
For decades, the Tamil Nadu state government has proclaimed that it is atheist, but politicians
frequently participate in religious ceremonies, even going to the extent of requiring that they be
honored with Deparathi and expect bowing as though they are incarnations of the “Divine.”
Hypocritical politicians are certainly nothing new for this world! The vast majority of Tamil people
Although the Hindu greeting “Namaste” is universal throughout most of Northern India, in Tamil
Nadu it is Namaskaram or Namaskar.
Temple Complexes - Nayanmars & Siddhas
Most ancient temple complexes in Tamil Nadu are dedicated to Shiva as the “Divine.” In Dravidian
tradition there are 63 Nayanmars, (devotional saints who are connected to South Indian Shaivism.)
Often all 63 Nayanmars are represented in the large temples. In the case of Vaithiswarankoil Temple
(seen in some of the above photos), the Nayanmars are not represented. Interestingly, reverence
has been shown to the temple by some of the earliest philosophic Siddhas who reputedly performed
Abhisheka (Abhisekam - rituals) there. In addition, the more recent Ramalinga Swamigal,
considered a Siddha composed beautiful poems about the temple.
As always, nothing is absolute in any Indian philosophy or religion.
Staying in Chidambaram as a Base
Many visitors traveling to Palani, Vaithiswarankoil Temple and other near by pilgrimage sites, will
stay in the town of Chidambaram. (The large temple complex in this town being the home of the
famous Nataraja (dancing Shiva) statue. (see: Embrace Sacred Places.Org - Hinduism
Though Indians have a reputation worldwide for entrepreneurship when given the opportunity. This
is in no way evidenced in Chidambaram. The town makes few concessions to visitors that could
make their stay easy or necessarily pleasant.
Chidambaram: Food - Times for Eating etc….
One of the problems, is what you can eat and when you can eat it. The number of restaurants are
limited and they cook and prepare what they want when they want. The general times for eating
breakfast, lunch or dinner in most countries worldwide has little bearing on what is available to eat
during those times in Chidambaram. In short, they do what is convenient for them and is generally
not convenient for anyone else. We have surmised that as Chidambaram is a Shiva temple the
townspeople have decided that, like Shiva, an ascetic, all visitors should observe abstinence from
frivolous living including eating.
There is more than ample opportunity for anyone with initiative to make a healthy profit from the
pilgrimage, tourist industry. However, few locals take advantage of this fact and there is much that
pilgrims and visitors need and want which is not available to them.
(As they say in New York - “Go figure.”)
The Joy of Palani
Visiting Palani and staying there is a wonderful experience. There are a variety of hotels and pilgrim
lodges that are comfortable and clean. The proprietors and front desk staffs are generally perceptive
and quite helpful. There are numerous food outlets. Many which are vegetarian. If you like Indian
sweets there are ample delicious bakeries with inquisitive and amusing teenagers working in them.
(They might even sneak in some extra sweets for you)
Finding and learning ancient traditions from modern teachers following the Siddha path or born into
the Siddha path is a noteworthy experience and a genuine pleasure. Shrimath Sivananda Pulipani
Swamigal (see: his photo in CURRENT) was incredibly patient with the Founders asking him dozens
and dozens of questions and he is a kind, as well as, knowledgeable person that was born into a
Vaithiswarankoil Temple is in the worst physical condition that we’ve seen in any temple anywhere.
We were unable to provide many photos of it, due to its’ desperate need of cleaning, repairs and
maintenance. Nevertheless, despite the deep litter and trash running from Chidambaram to the
temple clogging every stream, the temple should be seen. Other parts of Tamil Nadu are pristine.
The neglect in this area is an embarrassment.
Both Ramalinga’s - Sathaya Gnana Sabha Temple and Siddhi Valagam where in January 1874 he
dissolved into light, leaving no trace of his body behind, are deeply spiritual places. Many people
(even Europeans who have found their way there) feel a pulsing coming from the wall and door of
the room where he left the physical world.
The people here are very polite, feed the hungry and are well educated in large numbers. They are
prepared to help anyone in any way possible who comes to visit. One woman who hailed us told us
that she has two daughters getting university educations in the United States and Canada.
Ramalinga’s temple and the Siddha Valagam should not be missed.