Thiruvilaiyadal (Eng: The Divine Game) is a 1965 Indian Tamil language Hindu devotional movie written, directed, produced, and distributed by A. P. Nagarajan. The film features Sivaji Ganesan, Savitri, and K. B. Sundarambal in the lead roles with T. S. Balaiah, R. Muthuraman, Nagesh, T. R. Mahalingam, S. V. Sahasranamam, Devika, Manorama, and Nagarajan himself playing pivotal roles. Thiruvilaiyadal’s soundtrack and score were composed by K. V. Mahadevan, while the lyrics of the songs were written by Kannadasan, Ka. Mu. Sharif and Sankaradas Swamigal.
The story of Thiruvilaiyadal was conceived by A. P. Nagarajan, who was inspired by the Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam, a collection of sixty-four Shaivite, devotional, epic stories written in the 16th century by the saint, Paranjothi Munivar, which record the actions and antics of Lord Shiva appearing on Earth in various disguises to test his devotees. Four of the sixty-four stories are depicted in the film. The first is about the poet Dharumi; the second concerns Dhatchayini (Sati). The third recounts how Shiva’s future wife Parvati is born as a fisherwoman and how Shiva, in the guise of a fisherman, finds and remarries her. The fourth story is that of the singer Banabhathirar. The soundtrack was received positively and songs from it like “Pazham Neeyappa”, “Oru Naal Podhuma”, “Isai Thamizh”, and “Paattum Naane” remain popular today among the Tamil diaspora.
Thiruvilaiyadal was released on 31 July 1965 to critical acclaim, with praise directed at the film’s screenplay, dialogue, direction, music, and the performances of Ganesan, Nagesh, and Balaiah. The film was a commercial success, running for over twenty-five weeks in theatres, and became a trendsetter for devotional films as it was released at a time when Tamil cinema primarily produced social melodramas. It won the Certificate of Merit for the Second Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 13th National Film Awards, and the Filmfare Award for Best Film – Tamil. The film was dubbed into Kannada as Shiva Leela Vilasa, the first Tamil film to be dubbed into Kannada in ten years. A digitally restored version of Thiruvilaiyadal was released in September 2012, which was also a commercial success.
Lord Shiva gives a sacred fruit, brought by the sage Narada, to his elder son Vinayaka as a prize for outsmarting his younger brother Muruga in a competition to win it. Angered by his father’s decision, Muruga, dressed as a hermit, goes to Palani, despite Avvaiyar’s attempts to convince him to return to Mount Kailash. His mother, goddess Parvati, arrives there and narrates the stories of four of Shiva’s divine games to calm Muruga.
The first story is about the opening of Shiva’s third eye when he visits Madurai, the capital city of the Pandya Kingdom, ruled at that time by Shenbagapandian. Shenbagapandian wants to find the answer to a question posed by his wife — whether the fragrance from a woman’s hair is natural or artificial — and announces a reward of 1000 gold coins to anyone who can come up with the answer. A poor poet named Dharumi desperately wants the reward and starts to break down in the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Shiva, hearing his cries, takes the form of a poet and gives Dharumi a poem containing the answer. Overjoyed, Dharumi takes the poem to Shenbagapandian’s court and recites it, but Nakkeerar, the court’s head poet, claims the poem’s meaning is incorrect. On hearing this, Shiva argues with Nakkeerar about the poem’s accuracy, burning him to ashes when he refuses to relent. Later, Shiva revives Nakkeerar, and says that he only wanted to test his knowledge. Nakkeerar asks the king to give the reward to Dharumi.
The second story focuses on Shiva marrying Dhatchayini against the will of her father Dhatchan. Dhatchan performs a Mahayajna without inviting his son-in-law. Dhatchayini asks Shiva’s permission to go to the ceremony, but Shiva refuses to let her go as he feels no good will come from it. Dhatchayini disobeys him and goes only to be insulted by Dhatchan. Dhatchayini curses her father and returns to Shiva who is angry with her. Dhatchayini asserts that they are one and without her, there is no Shiva. He refuses to agree with her and burns her to ashes. He then performs his Tandava, which is noticed by the Devas, who pacify him. Shiva then restores Dhatchayini to life and accepts that they are one.
The third story describes Parvati being banished by Shiva when she becomes momentarily distracted while listening to his explanation of the Vedas. Parvati, now born as Kayarkanni, is the daughter of a fisherman. When playing with her friends, Shiva approaches in the guise of a fisherman and flirts with her, despite her disapproval. The fishermen often face problems due to a giant shark that disrupts their way of life. Shiva asserts that he alone can defeat the shark. After a long battle, Shiva subdues the shark (which is actually Nandi in disguise) and remarries Parvati.
The last story is that of Banabathirar, a devotional singer. Hemanatha Bhagavathar, a skilled singer, tries to conquer the Pandya Kingdom when he challenges the kingdom’s musicians. The King’s minister advises him to seek Banabathirar’s help to challenge Hemanatha Bhagavathar. When all the musicians reject the competition, the King orders Banabathirar to compete against Hemanatha Bhagavathar. Knowing that he cannot win, the troubled Banabathirar prays to Shiva who shows up outside Hemanatha Bhagavathar’s house in the form of a firewood vendor the night before the competition, and shatters his arrogance by singing the song “Paattum Naane”. Shiva introduces himself to Hemanatha Bhagavathar as Banabathirar’s student. Sheepish upon hearing this, Bhagavathar leaves the kingdom immediately, informing Banabathirar of his departure with a note. Shiva gives the letter to Banabathirar and reveals his true identity to him. Banabathirar thanks Shiva for helping him.
After listening to these stories, Muruga’s rage finally subsides and he reconciles with his family. The film ends with Avvaiyar singing “Vaasi Vaasi” and “Ondraanavan Uruvil” in praise of both Shiva and Parvati.
Directed by A. P. Nagarajan
Produced by A. P. Nagarajan
Based on Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam by Paranjothi Munivar
Starring Sivaji Ganesan, Savitri, K. B. Sundarambal
Music by K. V. Mahadevan
Cinematography K. S. Prasad
Edited by M. N. Rajan & T. R. Natarajan
Production Sri Vijayalakshmi Pictures
Distributed by Sri Vijayalakshmi Pictures
Release dates 31 July 1965
Running time 155 minutes