There is a village in South India called Thirunaraiyur. It has this name since it is believed that a stork worshipped Lord Shiva here.
In this village, in the family of Shaivite priests, was born a child, who was named Nambiyandar. His father was the priest in a Ganesha temple in the village. The Ganesha was and is called Polla Pillayar.
Every day when he went to the temple, Nambi, as he was affectionately called, accompanied his father and observed how the prayer (pooja) was conducted. When the time for offering the food to the Lord came, his father used to ask him to wait outside and close the door. Then with the ringing of the bells, he used to offer the food to Lord Ganesha.
The young Nambi learnt all the rituals in conducting the pooja by the time he was about seven years old.
One day, Nambi’s father had to go to another village for attending a function. He called Nambi and giving him the keys of the temple said to him, “Nambi, I am going to the neighbouring village for a function. Go to the temple and conduct the pooja to Lord Ganesha. Be careful not to lose the temple keys.”
Nambi nodded his head dutifully. “Yes, Appa, I will be careful and will perform the pooja as you have taught me” said he taking the keys of the temple from his father.
Early next morning, Nambi’s father left the house. After a while, Nambi’s mother gave him a vessel filled with “Kozhukattai” (rice dumplings with jaggery and coconut) to be offered to the Lord. Nambi went to the temple, opened the doors, cleaned the place and decorated Lord Ganesha with flowers and sang the songs his father used to sing. When it was time to offer the food to the Lord, he closed the doors, kept a plate full of bananas and broke a coconut and opened the vessel with the offering and looked at the idol of Lord Ganesha.
“Look what I have brought for you” he said. “Amma used to tell me that you like ‘Kozhukattai’ the best. Is it so?” he asked the Lord and looked eagerly for the idol to answer. There was no response.
Nambi was worried. He expected the Lord to come out from the idol and eat the sweet that he had brought. But there was no movement in the idol. Nambi was puzzled. Did the Lord not hear him or was he cross with him for something?
Nambi looked at the lord pleadingly. “Are you angry with me?” he asked the Lord. “Why then are you not eating what I brought for you huh? “
Still there was no response from the idol.
Nambi was perplexed. Why was this God not eating?
Yes! Maybe he was not hungry! Nambi remembered how his mother coaxed him to eat when he was not hungry.
Looking with great affection in his eyes, he said to the lord, “You are not hungry, are you? Come on, be a nice boy and eat this up, pleeeeease…… Amma made this especially for you. Shall I tell you a story? ”
The idol remained as it was. No response.
Nambi’s eyes were brimming with tears. He was worried as he did not seem to reason out why Ganesha did not have the food he brought. He was also worried that his parents would scold him for not ‘making Ganesha eat’.
“Well,” he said to the idol of Ganesha, “If you do not eat what I have brought I will end my life here and here itself”.
So saying, he held the base of the stone idol and hysterically started to bang his head on the stone.
Who would not be moved by such sincere devotion?
The next moment he felt the soft trunk of Ganesha on his back. Looking up, to his awe, he saw the God smiling at him, his ears swaying. His majestic figure enthralled Nambi.
Remembering his mission, he looked at the God and said, “Eat My Lord. Eat the sweet my mother has sent for you. Eat these fruits and coconut!!”
Ganesha obliged him and smilingly ate up the sweet dumplings and with on swoosh of his trunk took the bananas and coconut and ate them up.
Nambi was pleased immensely. He closed his eyes and said, “Thank you, my lord, thank you!” and when he opened his eyes, the God had disappeared.
Few people who were waiting outside to get a small portion of the offering they got daily were disappointed when Nambi told them that the God had eaten it all. They muttered amongst themselves that Nambi, being a small kid would have devoured everything behind the closed doors and they left the temple grumbling.
Nambi ran home happily with the empty vessels and told his anxious mother about the pooja he performed. His mother was very happy. But the happiness lasted for a short moment. When the next moment Nambi said that the food offering was eaten up by the Lord, his mother’s heart sank.
“When did this small boy learnt to tell lies so skilfully?” she thought to herself. When Nambi repeated the same story again and again, the mother started imagining the worst, that the boy had become unstable in mind. Due to her love for the child, she did not beat him but could only curse her ill luck.
The next day also Nambi’s father did not return and his mother prepared sweet rice and told him to come back immediately after the prayer was offer. This day also Nambi did the pooja sincerely but since the Lord knew of his devotion, He appeared at the first call of Nambi and ate up the offerings. Nambi went home with the empty vessels and found that his father had just come back.
“Come my boy” said the affectionate father. “Did you perform the pooja well?”
“Yes Appa” said the enthusiastic Nambi, I performed it properly and saw to it that Ganesha ate all that I took for Him!”
It was then that the father noticed the empty vessels. He was shocked.
“Where is the ‘prasad’ Nambi?” he demanded to know. The food after being offered to God is known as ‘Prasad”.
“I told you Appa, Ganesha ate it all!” And he was so happy with the tasty food”. Nambi replied with such innocence, his eyes sparkling with glee. “He was so beautiful Appa” he continued.
The father’s face changed drastically. He was furious that the little boy was lying to him without a wee bit of guilt.
“What did you say?” he roared, as his heavy hand fell on Nambi’s tender thigh. “How dare you lie to me you little fellow? If you wanted to eat up the delicacies, you could have told your mother and she would have made them for you. Instead, you ate all the prasad secretly and are lying, you brat!” The father rained blows over and over on the little Nambi who was pleading and crying hard.
“No Appa, I am not lying. Please do not beat me, Appa, please believe what I say!” he wailed.
Meanwhile hearing the commotion, the neighbours ran out and came to Nambi’s rescue.
“Do not beat the child” said an elder. “Yesterday also he ate the food like today. Maybe he wanted to eat some sweet and ate it up. It is after all a matter of food. You please give the child what he likes. Don’t beat the child!”
“Yes, what he says is right” echoed the others.
Nambi’s father though enraged at hearing that the previous day also this had happened, however stopped beating him and said, “Well, let me see for myself tomorrow how Ganesha comes and eats. I have been performing prayers in this temple for years together and can anyone believe that Ganesha, who has not appeared to me till date has appeared to this little rogue? Hmm. Liar!”
Nambi went to sleep sobbing and wondering why his father did not believe him. Was it that Ganesha was not coming and eating every day?
The next day Nambi’s father told him to accompany him to the temple and when they reached the temple, told Nambi to perform the pooja rituals. He stood outside the sanctorum watching how his son was faring and was even moved by the soulful rendering of hymns.
Finally, when the time for offering food came, Nambi closed the doors as usual. He pleaded to the Lord to come and eat today too. He was telling the Lord how his father did not believe him. Now, Nambi’s father had moved near the keyhole and was peering through it. He saw Nambi talking to the idol and thought his son had gone mad.
And suddenly, the Lord appeared in bone and flesh. Nambi’s father almost fainted in awe. He steadied himself and kept peeping through the hole only to see Ganesha happily eating the stuff Nambi had brought. The Lord was smiling at Nambi, nodding his head, his ears swaying like huge fans. After Ganesha finished eating Nambi stood with his head bowing in obeisance and his eyes closed, and Ganesha patted the boy’s head with his trunk and the next moment he was gone.
“Nambi! Nambi, my boy” cried the father exhilarated. He banged the doors and as Nambi opened them, he almost fell at the feet of the boy as Nambi skilfully caught him and said, “No father, you should not bow to me. I am your child after all”
“You are great my son!” said his father hugging him tight and carrying him. “What a fool I was to suspect your innocence my child, forgive me, child, please do forgive me!” The father was sobbing now!
All the people who had gathered in the temple were filled with surprise and awe at what had happened.
From that day, Nambi started doing the prayer to Lord Ganesha every day and it is said that this Lord guided him with solutions for many problems.
Nambi went on to become a great Tamil scholar and he was the contemporary of the great Raja Raja Chola (985 – 1013 A.D). This great Chola King heard Nambi sing the Tevaram (Hymns of the Saivite saints Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar) and was so impressed by the hymns. Nambi explained to the king that what he sang was what he learnt by oral tradition and that the scripts written on leaves were nowhere to be found.
Raja Raja took it upon himself to find the scripts and sought the help of Nambi. It is understood that Nambi had the divine help of the same Lord who enjoyed his hospitality which lead to them finding the leaf scripts half eaten by white ants in a chamber in the temple of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram. Only ten percent of the scripts were intact. Nambi undertook the onerous task compiling all the hymns into ten “Tirumurais” (roughly translates as book) and added his own hymns as the eleventh Tirumurai.
Nambi also wrote a book of the memoirs on the lives of the sixty three saints (Nayanmars)