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  • Writer's pictureJayakumar

Musical Traditions in Temples - Odhuvars

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

In the past few months, we have been covering the musical traditions of temples in Tamil Nadu. Apart from the many musical instruments being part of the day-to-day rituals of temples, there exists a strong vocal music tradition. The beautiful hymns that were composed many centuries ago by Saivaite and Vaishnavite poets are celebrated and sung.

As many of us know, the Bhakthi movement in South India starts in the Tamil region around the 5th Century CE with Nayanmars and Azhwars; the Saivite, and Vaishnavites who visited many shrines and composed hymns in Tamil on the presiding deity of the temple. Those hymns which are more than 1500 years ago are still very much alive today and are being sung in many temples across the country.

Both Saivite and Vaishnavite temples have many unique musical traditions. In the Saivite temple music traditions, the singing of Panniru Thirumurai has survived. The singing of Naalayira Divya Prabandham at the Vaishnavite temples has now become more of a chanting. But, the Saivite hymns Known as Thevarams, are still sung the same way for many centuries.

The Panniru Thirumurai, the compiled hymns of Saivite poets which were written between 5th century CE and 12th Century CE are chanted and sung. Panniru Thirumurai (twelve collected works of poets) was compiled perhaps post 12th century, most likely after Sekkizhar wrote his Periya Puranam which is the 12th book in the Panniru Thirumurai. The Thevaram hymns, which occupy the first eight Thirumuraigal are the combined hymns of Thirugnana Sambandhar, Thirunavukkarasar, and Sundarar. These are mainly sung during the daily rituals in the Shiva temples.

Umapathy Sivacharya, a poet-scholar said to have lived in the 13th century wrote the Thirumurai Kanda Puranam (discovery of Thirumurai) in which he mentions that these collected poems of the saints were kept in a secret chamber in the Chidambaram temple and it was discovered by the Chozha king with the guidance of Nambiyandar Nambi a revered poet-saint.

The word Thevaram has many meanings and it has changed over the centuries. According to some scholars, the Thevaram is an extension of singing “Vaaram”(Vaaram Paaduthal) that has been mentioned in Sangam literature. The prefix “The” denotes God. Thevaram became the word to denote the hymns of the three poets and hence they came to be also called Thevara Moovar (Thevaram Trinity). The word later came to mean the place where the metal images of the Gods are kept. The inscriptions call this place the Thevara Mandapam.

However, earlier, these hymns were known as Thiruppadhikam and people who sang these at the temples were known as Thiruppadhikam Paaduavar. At the Rajarajewaram temple, known as Sri Brihadisvara temple at Tanjore, built in the eleventh century CE, the inscriptions give us an enormous amount of details about them. The singers are mentioned as Thiruppadhikam Paaduvar. It is evident from the inscriptions that these hymns were called Thiruppadhikam for a long time. Later they have been used to denote the hymns of Thirunavukkarasar, Sambandhar, and Sundarar. Thiruvasakam, the well-known and celebrated work of Manikkavaasakar is usually mentioned along with the Thevaram and the composers of Thevaram and Thiruvasakam are reverently called Saiva Samaya Kuravar (perceptors of the Saiva religion).

The singers of the hymns who were earlier known as Thiruppadhikam Paaduvar came to be called Odhuvars in later times and are referred to as such, even today. These Odhuvars are and their traditions still thrive in many parts of Tamil Nadu. The music for the Thevaram hymns hasn't changed for many centuries. The Odhuvars were given land grants and regular salaries were paid to them by the temples. We have many inscriptions and copper plate records which give many details about their traditions.

In the last few centuries, the patronage for Odhuvars has been minimal, but, thankfully, it has been keeping these traditions alive. Many Patasalas teach Panniru Thirumurai which are run by Government and private bodies. But, this needs more support in terms of opportunities and sustenance. We at Prastara are working towards supporting Odhuvars across Tamilnadu by appointing them in temples with the required permissions from the authorities. We sincerely hope that this tradition gets the great support it deserves.

Written by

S Jayakumar

(Founder Trustee)

If you wish to support us in our initiative, you can reach out to us at or +91 9884013485. Donations can be sent through bank transfer to the below account: Prastara Charitable Trust | State Bank of India | Adyar SME Branch, Chennai Current A/c No. 33646223076 IFSC Code: SBIN0013361.

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