He was known as Dharmasenar when he was a Jain monk
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Thirunavukkarasar - the word means 'The king of the tongue' eulogizing 'The king of speech/words'.
When he was born his parents named him Marunikkiyar. He went on to become a scholar in Jainism and earned the title Dharmasenar. Later he relinquished Jainism to adopt Shivism and earned the title Thirunavukkarasar.
The kingdom called Thirumunaippadi, situated in the central part of Thamizakam (Tamil land), on the banks of the river Thenpennai, was fertile with with plenty of water and agrarian resources. It was here both Thirunavukkarachar and Sundharar were born. Among the many towns of that kingdom, the town called Thiruvamur is important. There lived a farmer couple Pukazanar and his wife Madhiniyar. They had a daughter named Thilakavathiyar and a younger one, a boy, named Marunikkiyar (meaning remover of illusion). He boy grew up immersed in local traditions.
When Thilakavathiyar was twelve the local army chief Kalippakaiyar wanted to marry her. Before the marriage could be conducted, war broke out with the king of the north and Kalippakaiyar had to go to war front. Meanwhile both Pukazanar and Madhiniyar passed away. Soon, the valiant Kalippakaiyar too became martyr in the battlefield. Thilakavathiyar did not want to live without Kalippakaiyar and wanted to end her life. Marunikkiyar persuaded her away from it and she continued leading a pious life.
Marunikkiyar trying to come out of the grief, he involved himself in various charities. The thought about the uncertainty in life took him to the religions and was attracted by the non-violence of Jainism. He went to Patalipuththiram (Kadalur) famous for the Jain institutions and learned the Jain scriptures with zeal and was praised for his knowledge by the Jains. They awarded him the title Dharma Senar. He won the Buddhists in debates on philosophy and the entire Jain groups were happy to have such a meritorious leader.
Hagiography: In the meanwhile, Thilakavathiyar spent time in the worship of Lord Shiva at Thiruvadhikai praying to Lord many times to rescue her younger brother from the ignorance and show him the right path. The Lord appeared in her dream and blessed her and said that he would bring Marunikkiyar to the right path, by giving chulai (a terrible stomach pain). Dharma Senar got unbearable pain in his stomach and no medicine could mitigate the pain. Appalled by the severity of the disease the Jains who torture themselves for attaining liberation, chanted all the mantras and gave the Holy water. Instead of alleviating, it amplified the pain. They touched throughout his body with the peacock feather but that too did not stop him from screaming. Frightened and confused the Jains gave up their efforts. With raising pain and no help at hand, Dharma Senar (Marunikkiyar) remembered his loving adorable sister. He sent a person to inform Thilakavathiyar about his pain. Though she felt pity for her brother, she conveyed to him that she would not go to the place of Jains. Marunikkiyar took decision that he would leave the company of Jains and submit himself to his sister and proceeded to Thiruvadhikai. Praising the glory of Lord Shiva she welcomed him saying "It is the grace of Lord Siva that brought you back, Surrender yourself to Him and serve Him".
The next day she took him to the temple for the early morning pooja 'Thirupalliezuchchi' (first worship in the temple - waking up of the Lord). Prostrating to the Lord he felt the urge to sing and sang his first Thevaram "Kurrayinavaru Vilakkakilir". He was immediately freed of his illness and there heared a voice, "As you sang the beautiful hymns enriched with nice words of excellent meaning, let your name be praised in the worlds as Navukkarachu" (the king of the tongue - King of words). The word Thiru is appended to names to show respect and Marunikkiyar who turned Dharma Senar has become Thirunavukkarasu, one of the most ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.
If with one song the God himself says that he is the king of words, what could be the greatness of his hymns ! Devotees remember Thirunnvukkarachar peruman with gratitude for the unparalleled words of devotion that are expressed through his hymns.
Jain sages of Patalipuththiram were a worried lot when they came to know of the miraculous curing of Dahrma Senar, by the God Shiva, relief which their religion could not provide. They, who were supposed to be the embodiment of the truth, conspired and mislead the king that Dharma Senar was only feigning the stomach pain as an excuse to go to Shiva.
As per their advice, the king put him through various punishments like putting him into in a burning lime kiln, feeding poison, setting a rogue elephant on him, drowning etc. None of these could do any harm to Thirunavukkarashar. In the burning kiln the sage sang "Machil vinaiyum" (meaning: The shelter of Lord's feet is like the nice breeze on the bank of a beautiful pond in a spring), in front of the wild elephant he sang "Chunnaven chandhanach chandhum" (meanig: Slaked lime paste for me is my Sandalwood paste, and goes on to expound - We are the slaves of the Lord of Thiruvadhikai, we are not afraid of anything nor is there anything that could scare us) and while they tried to drown him he sang "Chorrunai vedhiyan" and the panchakshara manthra - Na mah Shi va ya.
The God of Sea was blessed to hold the great sage over him. The sage arrived on that rock to the town of Lord Thiruppadhirippuliyur .
The king by now realizing the Truth repented for his sins, denounced the Jains and surrendered to the sage who won without wars. The king built a temple for the Lord there called Gunaparavichcharam.
The Shaiva movement was relatively more involved in religious conflicts and controversies. Saint Appar, after his conversion from Jainism to Shaivaism, converted the Pallava ruler from Jainism to Shaivaism. His poetry is a mixture of Jain world-view and Siva Bhakthi. Even though he expresses his regret for having wasted much of his life as a Jain monk, his poetry seems to be a form of synchronism between Jainism and Shaivaism. The Jain world-view and Jain didactic works become acceptable to the Shaivites.
Popular compositions: Talaiye ni (Pantuvarali), Yamamani (Bhairavi), Sotrunai (Kedaragowla) etc.