If Hindu religious traditions have survived the vagaries of time and onslaughts of aliens throughout history, it is not a little due to the sages, saints and seers that have emerged on the scene from time to time. They have cut out the deadwood, rejuvenated the flogging spirits and have blazen forth new vistas of spiritual life.
In this religious renaissance, the part played by the Śaiva and the Vaiṣṇava saints of South India is very significant. Of the four ācāryas of the Samaya school of Śaivism, Appar comes first, the other three being Sambandhar, Sundaramūrti and Māṇikkavācakar.
‘Appar’ (= father) is only a title given to Tirunāvukkarasar by another great ācārya, a much younger contemporary, Tirujñāna Sambandhar or Sambandhar.
Appar lived probably during the period A. D. 600—655, when the Pallava king Mahendra I was ruling at Kāñcī-puram. Having lost his parents very early, he was brought up by his saintly sister Tilakāvatiyār. Being influenced by the Jain doctrines, he got himself converted to Jainism. However, a serious crisis of health which was dispelled by the grace of Lord Śiva, the family deity, reclaimed him to his faith. It is said that the Jaina religious leaders who were dismayed at his reconversion tried to harass him through the king. However, he came unscathed, converting the king himself in the process.
He travelled widely and met another great saint Sambandhar who was hardly seven years old at that time. They became fast friends and mutual admirers.
A simple man of ardent faith and intense love for God, he is said to have composed in Tamil many padigas or decads of hymns, of which only 311 are extant. These hymns give the essence of the ancient scriptures in a simple but poetic language.