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The term "Shaivite" is overused nowadays. For instance, Iyer Brahmins are often called Shaivites, but they're actually followers of Adi Shankaracharya's Smartha sect (which I discuss here and here), and simply adopt Shiva as their Ishta Devata. True philosophical Shaivism is relatively rare nowadays (in contrast to philosophical Vaishnavism which is pretty common). I discussed one genuine Shaivite sect, the Lingayat sect of Basava, in my answer here. But my question is related to a more famous sect of Shaivism, known as Shaiva Siddhanta, which is based on the Shaiva Agamas and the poems of the Nayanars just as the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member) is based on the Pancharatra Agamas and the poems of the Alwars.

In any case, one of the defining works of the Shaiva Siddhanta sect is Meykandar's Shiva Jnana Bodham, a commentary on twelve important verses from a Shaiva Agama called the Raurava Agamas. Now Meykandar's shishya Arulnandi Shivacharya wrote a work called the Shivajnana Siddhiyar, which is a commentary on Meykandar's work but also tries to refute rival schools of philosophy. In this excerpt from the Shiva Jnana Siddhiyar, Arulnandi Shivacharya refutes the Purva Mimamsa philosopher Kumarila Bhatta's belief that souls are always reborn into the same species:

You say that of living beings, both moveable, and immovable, each of them will only change its body at its rebirth, according to its respective karma, but not its form. But answer me first, whether when humans enter Svarga and partake of the bliss therein, whether they do so there as human beings or as celestials? If they enjoy heaven as mere human beings, then this heaven ceases to be such. If as celestials they enjoy, your theory that they do not change their forms falls to the ground. After enjoying as celestials, when they are reborn on earth, they will only be reborn as human beings and not as celestials.

Some worms become beetles and some worms become wasps. Similarly beings change their forms according to their Karma. Most of the schools are also agreed on this point, and why should you alone have doubts about it? The accounts of Agalya becoming a stone, of Mahavishnu incarnating in several forms, of a spider being born in the Solar Race of far famed kings, and a rat having become Mahabali, also demonstrate our point.

Now most of these stories are recognizable: Gautama cursing his wife Ahalya to turn to stone, Vishnu's incarnations, and the story of a rat being reborn as Mahabali which is attested at least in folk tales? But my question is, what is the story of "a spider being born in the Solar Race of far famed kings"?

Is this a case of a solar dynasty king being cursed to turn into a spider, or a solar dynasty king having a spider as a son, or what? Are there any scriptures which mention this story?

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The spider in question is a Shiva Gana named Malyavan.

The Chola dynasty of kings is said to have sprung from the Surya Vamsa, at least according to this Wikipedia page. The last king to be mentioned in the list is King Kotchenganan, who is incidentally one of the 63 Nayanars.

The list claims that the dynasty descended from Ikshvaku, through Muchukunda, the son of Mandhata. That Muchukunda is the son of Mandhata is confirmed from this Bhagavatam verse, which says "Mucukundam Tu Yoginam". This King is the same person who burnt Kalayavana during Krsnavatara.

The eldest and prominent son of Mandhata was Ambarisha, who therefore gained the throne of Kosala. Muchukunda thus had to conquer (or was gifted?) another kingdom. This kingdom happened to be the Chola Kingdom, of which he is a very famous king, as corraborated by the Sthala Purana of Tiruvarur, where the temple of Lord Tyagaraja is said to have been established by Muchukunda, who ruled the region. (He also established six more images of Tyagaraja, which together are known as Sapta Vitanka Sthalas.)

Coming to the spider. The Sthala Purana of Thiruvainaikkaval mentions the story of Malyavan, and Pushpadanta, two Shiva Ganas, who during a quarrel, cursed each other to become a spider and an elephant respectively. They were duely reborn, and the spider and elephant both unknowingly offered worship and protection to a Shiva Linga, by thwarting the other's efforts, and died doing so. In response to their devotion, Lord Shiva granted them release from their curse.

Due to the sin of killing the elephant, Malyavan the spider was reborn as the great King Kotchenganan, so named because his eyes were bloodshot when he was born. He is a descendant of Muchukunda, (though I do not think that there were so few kings between Muchukunda and him).

Thus, Arulnandi Shivacharya's argument that a spider was born into the Solar Race is hence verified.

  • Good answer. By the way, isn't the elephant and spider story also associated with the Kalahasti temple? – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 2 '17 at 14:57
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    @Keshav Yes, the same Sthala Purana is associated with both Thiruvainaikkaval and Srikalahasti. But Srikalahasti is not associated with Malyavan and Purshpadanta. its associated with another spider (Sri), a snake (Kala) and an elephant (Hasti). – Surya Feb 2 '17 at 15:01

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