• By Dr Ketu Ramachandrasekhar
  • May 27, 2023
  • Adheenams are part of ceremony to inaugurate new Parliament. Know about Sengol tradition and who are Shaiva Adheenams? What is Siddhanta Shaiva and names of Adheenams of Tamil Nadu.  

The Adheenams of Tamil Nadu have come into the limelight because it is they who will hand over the Sengol to Prime Minister Modi for being placed next to the speaker’s podium at the yet to be inaugurated new Parliament House. The questions being asked, what is Sengol tradition? Who are Adheenams? 

About Sengol tradition

The coronation ceremony of a king was considered to be a very auspicious moment in the history of the nation. To mark the event, the king was endowed with three royal insignas-the crown (mukuta), the royal sword (khadga) and the sceptre (rajadanda). While the crown signified the King to be the sole leader of the nation, the sword was the deterrent force which kept the opponents at bay and the sceptre denoted the rule of just law where the virtuous citizen was offered protection and the vile punishment. These three symbols were passed over generations to press the greatness of the lineage.

Rajadanda or the Sengol is thus a pan-Indian phenomenon which can be seen in the coins of Samudragupta, and referenced in many literary works and travel accounts. When the kings were traditionally Shaivites, the danda had the symbol of Vrsha (sacred bull), while the Vaishnavites adorned the sceptre with Garuda, both signifying Veda and Dharma.

Rishabha Danda, Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal, Karnataka. The one who is being stamped is demon Apasmara. The others are Shivaganas who are giving rhythm to the Natesha's dance.

Picture by Muthu Guide, Pattadakal. Wish to thank him for sending pic in 10 minutes of my call. Contact number 91 94494 38078 - Editor.

See album of Pattadakal Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site

To mark their role in the administration of the land, when the power was transferred from the British to the first Prime Minister of India, it was the tambiran representing the Tiruvavatuturai Adheenam who passed on the holt staff of Dharma (Sengol: semmai  kol-The staff that denotes just rule)  accompanied by the recitation of the sacred hymn of the Shaiva child-saint Tiru-Jnanasambandhar, “Kolaru Tiruppadigam”. The Hymn ends with “arasalvar aanai namade”, meaning “they will rule; this is our command.” 

Tiru-Jnanasambandhar promises Divine Sovereignty and Rulership to those who recite His Divine Hymn. This is the promise of our Divine Sambandhar, one who was fed milk by Devi Herself, one who was accepted as a son by the three-eyed Mahadeva Himself.

This promise is the reason why we need not lose hope for Bharata.

Read Sengol is symbol of Dharma over Power And Decoding Sengol-Dharma Dand And Significance of Sengol

Who are Shaiva Adheenams?

For the followers of the Agamic traditions (Shaiva as well as the Vaishnava), the aims of the religious practice (sadhana) embraced not just the release (mukti), but also personal gain and general prosperity (bhukti).

The option of bhukti and the path to liberation make no contradiction as the philosophical traditions they followed admitted and affirmed the physical world. This acceptance of the physical world acknowledged it as an arena of operation for both the deity's powers and for those who aspired to supreme states of knowledge. 

The Saivagamas are classified as Monoist (Bhairavagamas) and Pluralists (Siddhantagamas).

Saint Tirumular, like his satguru, Nandinatha, propounded monism in which Shiva is both the material and efficient cause, immanent and transcendent. His Tirumandiram unfolds the way of Siddhanta as a progressive, fourfold path of jnana- wisdom of unitary consciousness, charya-virtuous and moral living, kriya- temple worship, and yoga—internalized worship and union with Para Shiva through the grace of the living satguru—which leads to the state of jnana and liberation.

Thus, the importance of having a preceptor or Guru is one of the fundamentals requirements for liberation in the Agamic traditions.

The entire gamut of Kashmir Shaivism falls under the monoist school (Paramadvaita) of Shaivagamas.

Siddhanta Shaiva

Aghorasivacharya, the head of the Åmardaka Matha in Chidambaram inaugurated a new Siddhanta, divergent from the monistic Shaiva Siddhanta. To this day, Aghorasiva’s Siddhanta philosophy is followed by almost all of the hereditary Sivacharya (Shaiva temple priests), and his paddhati texts on the Ågamas have become the standard puja manuals. 

In the thirteenth century, Meykandar laid the foundation of the Meykandar Sampradaya through his composition Sivajnanabodham, which propounds a pluralistic realism wherein God, souls and world are coexistent and without a beginning. Shiva is efficient but not material cause. They view the soul’s merging in Shiva as salt in water, an eternal oneness that is also twoness. 

These eternal and unchanging teachings, from their original articulations in the Siva-Agamas, Vedas and Tamil formulations in the Tirumurais and Siddhanta Sastras alternatively called Meykanda Sastras, are supposed to be conveyed through personal continuity, thereby preserving textual and thematic integrity.

The Saiva system was widely prevalent in South India. The Shaiva Mathas whose origins were in the Eastern and Central India such as Golaki (Bhiksha) Matha, Amardaka Matha, Mattamayura etc. greatly influenced the life and culture of the Tamils. Read Saiva Connections between Tamil Nadu and Bengal/Central India

There are temple inscriptions from the area dating as early as the ninth century that refer to mathas. These include the Sarvadevan madam (A.R.E. no. 103 of 1925, dated 28th year of Rajendra Chola), the Tirunilavitankan madam (A.R.E. no. 144 of 1925, dated the 31st year of Kulothunga Chola) the Sivalokanayakan madam (148 of 1925, dated the 47th year of Kulothunga Chola), and others. None of those earlier mathas have apparently survived, for there are no present centres or mathas that can be directly connected with them.

In the mid sixteenth century arose a set of institutions affiliated to Shaiva Siddhanta such as the Tiruvavatuturai, Dharmapuram, Tiruppanantal and Suriyanarkoil Adheenams which followed the Meykanda Shastras. Each of them has a relatively unbroken history since the mid-sixteenth century, and continue to be thriving centres. These Adheenams make no attempt to connect themselves with any of the earlier centres mentioned in the inscriptions above.

The two terms, matha (madam) and adheenam, are not interchangeable. In usage, matha carries a connotation of place, though the term madam is often used as an umbrella term for a wide range of religious centres and rest houses.

In contrast, the term adheenam designates an independent institution that has its own internal structure of authority. According to Madras District Gazetteers - Adheenams are the “central mutts exercising control and supervision over subordinate mutts and other institutions such as temples.” Madras District Gazetteers: Tanjore (Madras: 1906), p. 232. Thus, every aadheenam is a matha but all mathas are not aadheenams. This understanding is essential to understand the religious hierarchy of the Shaiva institutions, esp. in Tamil Nadu. 

Sukra Kshetram (Venus) temple entrance. Temple is 16kms from Kumbakonam, belongs to Madurai’s Sri Thirugnanasambantha Swamigal Aatheenam. Men visit to pray for the well being of their wives.

See album of Navagraha Temples of Tamil Nadu of which above temple is one

There exist many Adheenams in Tamil Nadu currently, namely Velakurichi Adheenam, Mailam Bommapuram Adheenam, Sivagiri Adheenam, Perur Veera saiva Adheenam, Thiruvannamalai-Kundrakudi Adheenam (pic above), Madurai Adheenam, Senkol Adheenam, Thuzhavoor Adheenam, Kamakshipuri Adheenam, Pollachi Adheenam, Dindigul Sivapuram Adheenam and Avaduthurai Adheenam etc.

The Madurai Adheenam claims its origin back to Goddess Meenakshi Herself and believes that the 7th century child saint Thirujnanasambandar revived the Adheenam during his visit to Madurai.

The peculiarity of the Velakurichi Mutt, as distinct from the other mutts is, a ‘Grahastha-Sanyasi’ managing the mutt, where as the Heads of the other mutts like Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam, Dharmapuram Adheenam etc. are pure ‘Naishtika – Sanyasis’.

But the four most prominent and influential Adheenams are Tiruvavatuturai Adheenam, about midway between Kumbhakonam and Mayilatuturai, the Dharmapuram Adheenam, about two kms east of Mayilatuturai, and the Kasi Matha of Tiruppanantal, about twelve kms northeast of Kumbhakonam and Suriyanarkoil Adheenam near Kumbakonam.

See album of Temples of Kumbakonam 

Notwithstanding the fact that each of the centres has its own unique tradition and preserves its history, and at certain times of shared history considerable rivalry existed among them, these centres share an interrelated social context in numerous ways. 

1. Their establishment to propagate and preserve the Shaiva Siddhanta. All of these centres date from the sixteenth century and are all still thriving centres.

2. Caste. Currently, only members of four groupings of the Velala caste (pillais, tondaimandala mutaliyars, karkattar pillais, desigars) and the Caiva Cettiyars are eligible to be initiated into the spiritual line of each of the matas.

3. Pertains to their responsibility towards the endowments made to them as well to the temples under their administrative control. Though the members of these centres are celibate ascetics, they control, through their institutions, vast wealth in land, immovable property, related to a network of temples in South India.

A paradigmatic and in fact tremendously influential example for the Saivite position on the history of the whole tradition can be understood by the fact that most of the ancient Shiva and Subrahmanya temples of religious and historical significance in the state of Tamil Nadu are governed and administered by these Adheenams.  

Read Saivite Acharyas of Tamil Nadu And Saint Poets of Tamil Nadu

They are also custodians of Shaiva culture and thus run several institutions to teach and train the various officials and lay disciples. Agamas, Shaiva Shastras, Tirumurais (sacred hymns sung by the Shaiva Nayanmars), and other connected scriptures are taught in traditional manner under the auspices of these Adheenams.

Their most significant role is in effective administration of the temples and the rituals therein. But unfortunately, undue pressures and interferences from the HR&CE officials act as a huge barrier in fulfilling the tasks.

Most of the temple properties are under direct control of the department, thus depriving the revenue to the Adheenams, which otherwise would have been used for the propagation of the Shaiva Dharma

Read How Hindu Temples came under Government control

Organisational Structure

The institution is headed by a leading ascetic, the ‘Gurumaha Sannidhanam’. 

The authority of the centre fundamentally relies on a personal lineage of pontiffs that is based on a guru–disciple relationship between the Gurumaha Sannidhanam and the members of the Adheenam’s ascetic brotherhood, the ‘Tambirans’. The initiation into the brotherhood, however, is restricted to male aspirants. Traditionally, the Gurumaha Sannidhanam selects one of his disciples to become his future successor after his earthly demise (samadhi). This succession is ensured through the rite of abhisheka diksha, which the Gurumaha Sannidhanam performs for the successor designate. 

Through this unbroken line of pontiffs, or ‘Guruparamparai’, the respective head of the Adheenam not only claims a connection to his historical predecessors up to the founder preceptor of the Adheenam but also, is directly linked up with the last of the four ‘great philosophers’ (santanachariyar) of Tamil Saiva Siddhanta, namely Umapati Sivachariyar, who supposedly authored 8 out of the 14 canonical Sastra-texts at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Meykandar, (early thirteenth century), Arulnandi Sivacharya (mid-thirteenth century) and Maraijnana Sambantar (late thirteenth century).

Mount Kailash. Pic courtesy Pratima Joshi.

The lineage is then traced all the way to Lord Shiva himself, who is said to have revealed the sacred wisdom (shivajnana) to his disciples on Mount Kailash thus perpetuating the ‘Holy-Kailasha-lineage’ (tirukkayilaya paramparai).

Read The Kailash Mansrovar Yatra is Eternal

Many rulers recognized the great services of the Adheenams and thus many endowments of lands and properties were made. Apart from overseeing the management of an endowment, these Adheenams were participants in a complex web of authority. Often mediating between endower and endowee, the heads of the Adheenams were entitled to share (or co-opt) the symbols of sovereignty associated with the temple tradition. These symbols are still displayed today.

When Gurumahasannidhanam leaves his matam to go to the temple, a guard brandishing a sword clears the way for him; he is accompanied by a tampiran who carries an umbrella over his head; other servants of the matam fan him. For important events he is carried in a palanquin. He holds court, seated on his pitam (throne or seat of the guru). The symbols are likewise regal. Moreover, the use of these symbols is more than simply figurative. They establish the role of Adheenams as the supreme custodians of Shaiva Dharma.

Additional Reading

1. Ira Celvakkanapati, "Tarumai Atina Kuruparamparai Varalaru" in Anaittulaka Caiva Cittanta Mutal Karuttarankam Vila Malar(Dharmapuram: Dharmapuram Atinam, 1984)

2. To. Mu. Paskarattontaiman, "Atinak Koyilkalin Atci" in Tarumai Kanakapikseka Vila Malar (Dharmapuram: Dharmapuram Atinam, 1961)

K. Nambi Aroonan, "Three Saivite Mutts in Tanjavur" in Changing South Asia: Religion and Society,Vol. I, (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1981)

Also read

1. Who are Aghoris

2. Album of the biggest Saiva Temple at Thanjavur

3. Album of amazing Kandariya Mahadeo Temple, Khajuraho

4. Album of Prambanan Shiva Temple Indonesia

5. Saiva Temples in Cambodia  

To read all articles by author

Author Dr Ketu Ramachandrasekhar  is Program Manager at Bharatiya Samskriti Trust, a Non-Profitable Organisation dedicated towards the dissemination of Indic Knowledge Systems and resurgence of the Oldest Living Cultural way of life i.e. Sanatana Dharma. He has his Doctorate in Indian Epistemology and was selected as a Fellow from hundred young scholars across India for Studies in Neuro Aesthetics and Indian Rhetoric by Ministry of Culture, GOI. He was a part of Academic Team of scholars across Europe on discussion of Natya Texts. His expertise in Shaiva Pratyabhijna School is well recognised by scholars of Kashmir Shaivism and he has been a regular contributor to their Journals on the works and contributions of Acharya Abhinavagupta. He has several research articles and books to his credit which includes a detailed study of Abhinayadarpana of Nandikeshvara, Devi Mahatmya and others.

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