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Tag: Chidambaram

Tiruvadirai Kali – An interesting legend

Yesterday was Tiruvadirai (Ardra) star of the Margazhi month. Margazhi in Tamil and Mrigasira in Sanskrit and some other languages, this is the period between Mid-December to Mid-January.  Ardra or Tiruvadirai as it is known, this star mostly coincides with the full moon and sometimes is a day before or after full moon day. This day is dear to Lord Shiva and is celebrated in the South of India as “Ardra Darisanam” (Darshan of the Lord Shiva on Ardra day).

There are a couple of legends associated with this day, but I am going to narrate the legend associated with the sweet dish made on this day as an offering to the Lord Shiva, in Tamilnadu.

In the 10th century CE, there was a woodcutter by name Senthan, who lived near Chidambaram. Senthan was illiterate, and was an ardent devotee of the Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. In Chidambaram, the Lord is in the form of Nataraja, the dancing Shiva.

Though poor, Senthan had the practice of feeding a good meal to one devotee of Shiva every day. His means were limited and he had a hand to mouth existence. His only income was from felling and selling wood. Still, unless he fed one devotee of Shiva every day Senthan would not rest.

 “Feeding a devotee of Shiva is equivalent to feeding Lord Shiva himself” he used to say to himself.

Fortunately, his family supported his good deed and he had managed to carry on this practice for years together without a break.  Senthan’s life was going on peacefully.

One day in the month of Margazhi , early in the morning, unusually, there was a heavy downpour. It was so heavy that very soon there was ankle deep water everywhere. The rain did not stop and it went on drizzling the whole day.

Senthan went out to fell wood but the trees were all so wet. In spite of the rain, Senthan managed to get some wood and brought them to the market. He was in for a shock as people refused to buy wet wood.

“Sentha, you know we cannot use the wet wood in our stoves. How can we buy from you?” they said. “Dry them up after the sun comes up and we shall buy afterwards”. They were perfectly right in not buying the wood. Who would buy wet wood?

Senthan was worried about his income that day. No sales meant no money, no rice, provisions and fresh vegetables for the guest and no feeding of devotee that day.

“Please, please buy at least some wood today” was all that he could plead with the people who were shopping for wood. He could not tell them his worry of not being able to feed a devotee. His pleas were of no avail as people went about to other shops who had stocked dry wood.

Depressed by the day’s events, Senthan went home with a heavy heart. It was nearing late afternoon and there were not many people on the road due to the continuous rain.

He sat on the verandah of his house, contemplating on how to keep up his vow. He had neither the provisions to cook for a devotee nor a devotee to feed that day. He could not, but reconcile to the situation by thinking that it was the Lord’s will indeed that his vow should be broken.

“I surrender to you O Lord” he mentally prayed. “If this is your will, so be it”. He bowed down his head as if the Lord was in front of him.

As he raised his head, he saw a person clad in saffron, wearing the Rudraksha beads, walking towards his house. The person’s face exuded saintliness and radiance. It was as if he was some divine being.

Senthan was, for a moment overjoyed, that he got a person to feed, but the very next moment, remembered that there was no rice in the house, to cook. He was in a dilemma, as to what to do. By that time, the saintly person had reached the verandah of Senthan’s house. In a deep and melodious voice he spoke, “I have been travelling all day long and I have a long way to go. Could I get something to eat?”

Senthan was trembling with joy. “Of course, Holy Sir! It is my privilege to feed you. Please, please do come in” The words had come out of his mouth involuntarily. As he gave the person water to wash his feet, Senthan’s logical mind came to the front. “What are you going to feed him Sentha?” it said. “You know very well there is not even a grain of rice at home”

As if reading Senthan’s mind, the holy person said, “I am not particular about rice, my friend. I will happily partake whatever you give me. All I want is some food”.

Nodding his head in a hurry, Senthan rushed in to see if anything was available in the kitchen. His eyes fell on the small quantity of Ragi flour kept in a corner of a shelf and some little bit of jaggery in a small vessel. Coconuts, being grown almost in all houses, used to be available in the house always.

After making his guest comfortable and giving him water to drink, Senthan quickly whipped up a sweet dish with the ragi flour, jaggery and coconut scrapings, the dish had the consistency of thick halwa and could be shaped into balls. It was called “kali” (pronunciation – ‘Ka’ as in cup and ‘Li’ as in liquid – though the exact ‘l’ sound is not available in English language)

Praying to Lord Shiva to forgive him for not feeding rice and a full meal, Senthan offered this “kali” to the guest with great hesitation. The guest was so happy consuming the dish and kept telling Senthan that the dish was extremely tasty so much so that he wanted some of it to be packed for his dinner!

“I love this tasty preparation of yours. If something is still left, can you pack it for me so that I can eat it on my way for dinner?” said he.

Senthan was overjoyed and packed the remaining “kali” in a banana leaf using a thread made of banana fibre and gave it to the saintly guest.

The guest thanked Senthan and went his way.

The next day was the star of Ardra and early in the morning, there would be special worship to Lord Shiva at Chidambaram as in all Shiva temples. As the priests opened the doors of the sanctum of Chidambaram, they were shocked to see “kali” strewn around on the floor. Bits of “kali” were also sticking to the murti’s mouth and hand and there was a contented smile on Lord Shiva’s face.

The priests were aghast at this happening. Never was “kali” considered fit to be served to the Lord and never had it been served ever in the temple. So it was a mystery to all as to how this had happened in the locked temple. The harried priests immediately informed the happening to the King Gandaraditya Chola who was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva.

Gandaraditya was the second son of Parantaka Chola I of the Chola dynasty, who succeeded his father in 950 CE. Gandaraditya was himself a great devotee of Lord Shiva of Chidambaram. So was his queen Sembian Mahadevi. In fact Gandaraditya was a very reluctant ruler and was more of a saint that he gave up his throne to his brother Arinjaya Chola within a few years of becoming King, so that he could pursue religious activities full time.

It is said that in the everyday worship of Lord Shiva at his palace, at the end of the worship, Gandaraditya used to hear a soft tinkle of the Lord Nataraja’s anklets as a mark of the Lord’s presence there. This particular day the King did not hear the sound and was quite concerned as to whether something went wrong in his worship. He went to sleep with this thought nagging in his mind.

Early that morning, Gandaraditya had a dream in which Lord Shiva had appeared and told him that He had gone to Senthan’s house to eat “kali” and therefore was not present in the palace the previous evening. The King was wondering who this Senthan was and what was the “kali” Lord Shiva was referring to.

Just then, this news of ‘kali’ strewn in the sanctum of the Lord came in. As soon as he heard the news , the King, overwhelmed, rushed to the temple. He was overjoyed at the sight of the “kali” strewn all over. Describing his dream to the priests he asked eagerly, “Where is the great Senthan? I want to see him. He has fed the Lord with his own hands”

The priests were dumbfounded at the King’s revelation but they also did not know who this Senthan was. The King sent his guards into the town to find out about Senthan and came to know that Senthan had gone to witness the procession of the chariot (Ther in Tamil) of Nataraja which was scheduled to start shortly.

The King, priests and guards rushed to the place where the chariot was ready for the procession but could not locate Senthan as there was a huge crowd. .

As they were wondering what to do next, the time for pulling the chariot was nearing and as was the custom, the King also went to hold the sturdy rope with the help of which the ‘Ther’ would be drawn. Little did he realise that Senthan was also holding the same rope behind him. Pull as they might, the chariot would not move even a millimeter, as the wheel of the chariot got stuck in the muddy ground as a result of the heavy rain the previous day.  

Suddenly, a booming voice was heard from the sky (Ashareeri). “Sentha”, the voice commanded, “sing Pallandu for me and the Ther will move”.

The voice was heard by all, loud and clear and all the people in the crowd were looking as to who this ‘Senthan’ was. Senthan himself was shocked at his name booming from the sky, but he was very sure that it was not he who was being addressed.

“I am an illiterate. So it must be some other Senthan in the crowd who is being addressed”, he thought to himself.

As if to respond to his thoughts, the voice boomed again, “You are the person Sentha! Focus on me and you will sing!”

Senthan immediately realised that it was his Shiva who was commanding him. He closed his eyes and meditated on the beautiful form of Nataraja and poetry flowed out of his mouth as a river would flow from its origin!

He, who had not even studied an alphabet, sang thirteen verses of the “Pallandu” in chaste Tamil. “Pallandu” is a song of blessing. In this song, Senthan has had the privilege to bless the Lord of the Universe thirteen times in the thirteen verses.

Gandaraditya, who had recognized Senthan by then was overcome with joy and respect and wanted to be blessed by him.

Lord Shiva, had once again showcased the devotion of an ordinary person, to the world, to reinforce the fact that to Him all are equal.  

And ‘kali’ became an offering to Lord Shiva on Ardra Darshan day!!


  • Gandaraditya was a composer of divine poetry himself. He has been acknowledged by Saivite scholars for his work called “Tiruvisaippa” which is a part of the Ninth Thirumurai of Saivite literature.
  • The offering of ‘kali’ is made these days with finely broken rice and jaggery. It is not known when the ingredient changed from Ragi to broken rice. Also some say that Senthan offered greens or mixed vegetables along with the sweet ‘kali’ and so a ‘koottu’ or mixed vegetable is also made and offered along with ‘kali’.

The Story of Manickavasagar

Tiruvadhavoor is a village near Madurai.  In this village was born to a pious couple, a son, whom we know as Vadhavooran (born in Vadhavoor- hence). Vadhavooran’s father belonged to the saivite temple priest clan.

Vadhavooran was a very bright child who mastered various subjects, scriptures of various religions and arts before he was sixteen years of age. The King of Madurai, at that time, Varaguna Pandian who was also known as Arimardhana Pandian chanced to witness the brilliance of Vadhavooran’s knowledge and acumen.  Impressed, he immediately appointed him as his minister. Vadhavooran discharged his ministerial duties with elan and provided an effective administration in the kingdom, but his mind was focussed on getting salvation from this mundane life and he constantly prayed to Lord Shiva to show him the path or to show him a Guru (teacher) who would show him the path to salvation.

Once, Arimardhana Pandian came to know that good Arabian horses had been brought by traders to the Coastal towns in the Chola Kingdom and he was eager to acquire good horses to improve his cavalry. He gave gold coins to his trusted minister Vadhavooran and told him to go to the Chola Kingdom and acquire horses.

Vadhavooran accepted the assignment and commenced his journey to the Chola Kingdom. He had to pass by a place called Tirupperunthurai, which is in Pudukkottai district now. As he was passing by the place, he heard the chant of Vedic hymns and was drawn to it. He saw an old man (who was actually Lord Shiva in disguise) sitting under a Kurunthu tree. The very moment Vadhavooran’s eyes met the old man’s, he decided that he was the Guru he was seeking all these years. He forgot all about his mission and stayed with the old man learning about the glory of Lord Shiva.  He realised that all the material things in this world were temporary and decided that the Lord was the only source of permanent bliss and therefore started to build a temple for the Lord there. He sang many hymns on the Lord and the most famous one was Tiruvachagam. On hearing it, the old man gave Vadhavooran the name of Manickavasagar – literally translated means gem worded or more specifically,  ruby worded, that is,  the words spoken by Vadhavooran were equivalent to rubies.

Meanwhile, Arimardhana Pandian, at Madurai was waiting eagerly for the horses to come but there was no news of that. He sent his spies in search of Vadhavooran and he got the shocking news that Vadhavooran had not gone any further than Tirupperunthurai and he was constructing a temple and feeding the poor with the money meant for buying horses. The King was furious and asked his men to immediately bring Vadhavooran to Madurai. Only when the men told Vadhavooran about the King’s order, he remembered his mission and panicked that all the money had been spent by him in charity and temple construction.  He asked them for some time and went inside the temple to meet the old man and he surrendered to Him. He told Him about the mission of his and the dilemma he was facing now.

The old man patted Vadhavooran and said, “Do not worry. Go back to your king and tell him that the horses will arrive on Avani Moolam day. (Avani is the name of a Tamil month and Moolam is a star. Each day of the month is dedicated to a star in Tamil culture) The old man took out a diamond ring from nowhere and gave it to Vadhavooran and said, “Go and give this to your King as a token from the horse dealer”.

Vadhavooran was mesmerised and took the ring completely believing every word of the old man without even thinking how it would ever happen, and went back to his kingdom. He gave the ring to the King who was surprised and even suspected whether his spies had lied to him on the activities of Vadhavooran. He spoke kind words to Vadhavooran and was expecting the horses to come on the day promised by Vadhavooran.

Since hundreds of horses were supposed to arrive,  the spies of the king were looking for clouds of dust from afar since the galloping of so many horses would have caused a dust storm, but everything was calm and clear. The spies went and told the King that what Vadhavooran told him was a lie since the very next day was Avani Moolam day and there was no sign of any horses coming.

“Be patient!” said the King. “Let us see till the appointed day!”

Lord Shiva wanted to play some mischief and see the fun. That very night, all the foxes in the jungles near Madurai got transformed into horses and suddenly out of nowhere, there were hundreds of horses, being led by some horsemen and they had a leader also. Early in the morning, the gatekeepers of the palace were surprised to see this extremely handsome man leading the other men and horses and they ran to the King to inform him. The King was puzzled but pleasantly surprised that Vadhavooran had after all not cheated him and therefore, he along with Vadhavooran came and received the horses.  The horses were looking very high class and of a rare breed and the King was extremely happy and very much impressed by the leader of the horsemen. Vadhavooran somehow thought that the leader of the group resembled the old man he had met at Tirupperunthurai. The leader then explained to the King in a very detailed manner, about the method of upkeep of the horses, their feed etc. and took leave of the King. The King arranged for all the horses to be stabled and went to bed a very happy man, eager to try riding the horses the next day.

But Lord Shiva had other plans. That very night, the horses were transformed back into foxes and suddenly, there were packs and packs of them jumping out from the stables and pouncing on the horsemen and some real horses and injuring them. They ran hither and thither, howling away and the security guards were taken by surprise and it was chaos all around and the guards who were running for their life left the gates open and the foxes ran back into the jungles.

The King was told about the happenings and he was furious. He thought that Vadhavooran was practising some black magic and ordered him to be arrested immediately. It was a real hot day and the Vaigai river was fully dried up.

“Make him stand in the hot bed of the River Vaigai in the hot sun for the whole day!” the king thundered and immediately Vadhavooran was taken to the river bed. The white sand of the river looked beautiful but was burning hot. It was like the coal which looks harmless with ash over it, but really hot inside. Vadhavooran was pained at the turn of events. He was crying to Lord Shiva silently that such a thing had happened and was very disturbed as he could not figure out why and how this happened.

The hot sand of the Vaigai river bed was baking his feet and he was not able to stand still even for a second. But his mind solely dwelt on the Lord Shiva, and he surrendered himself to Him even though tortured by the heat of the sand and the pain.

Suddenly from nowhere thunderclouds gathered and there was heavy rain. It rained for two or three days together that Vaigai was in spate. The rain was gaining more and more momentum that it looked like the river banks would be breached very shortly.

The King ordered that one person from each house should come and help in strengthening the embankment by putting sand. An announcement was made in the streets of the city about this order of the King and all the citizens had to send one able bodied person from their house. The King’s order had to be obeyed at any cost.

Now, there was an old lady by name Vanthi in Madurai who eked out a living by selling a south Indian delicacy called “Pittu”. Pittu is a powdery sweet made from rice flour and jaggery. This lady Vanthi was an orphan and she sold Pittu and earned money. Every day when she made Pittu, she would first offer it to Lord Shiva and then commence her sales. She was very aged and also had nobody to send to comply with the King’s order.

As she was pondering what to do Lord Shiva appeared as a young boy at her doorstep.

“Hello is there any one inside?” cried the lad. “Does anyone have a job to give me?”

The old lady was surprised and happy and she came out hurriedly and saw this handsome young lad with a turban tied around his head and innocent looks.

“Who are you boy?” she asked him “and what do you want?”

“Patti”, he said (Patti is grandmother in Tamil); “I am on the lookout for a job. Do you have any odd jobs to be done Patti?” he asked very humbly.

“Hmmm” sighed Vanthi. “Well, I am in need of a person to carry out the King’s order”. She then went on to tell him about the King’s order for persons to come to help strengthen the embankment of River Vaigai.

The boy listened to her and said, “I will do the work on your behalf Patti, but what will you pay me?”

Vanthi’s face fell. “I do not have much money to pay you boy” she said sadly. “I earn my living by selling Pittu”.

“Aha, Pittu!” jumped the lad. “My grandma also gives me Pittu every day. It is alright Patti. You give me Pittu instead of money” he said.

Vanthi was happy and expected him to go for the job immediately, but he was standing there expectantly.

“What do you want?” asked Vanthi. “Go and do the job I have told you, go”

“Patti… hmm.. Patti… I want…. I want to have the Pittu before I go. I am feeling very hungry Patti” said the boy.

Vanthi, being an old woman was moved when this young lad was saying he was hungry.

“Wait a minute” she said, “I shall give you the Pittu. You go after eating” . She went in and brought the lad  a good amount of Pittu in a banana leaf.

The boy looked at it eagerly and ate it with great relish. “This Pittu is great” he said. “Just like what my grandma makes”. And licking his fingers he did not leave a speck of the Pittu. “OK Patti”, he addressed her. “Give me a spade and I shall go and do the job as you wish”.

He took the spade and went to the river bank where everyone was busy struggling to put mud on the embankment. The rain had temporarily stopped. The boy looked around and found a big tree nearby with huge roots. He put the spade down and took of his turban and spread it on the roots of the tree and settled down reclining himself on the bark of the tree and in a few minutes was snoring away gently.

The people there were looking at him in awe for he was disobeying the King’s order so blatantly. Soon after, the King accompanied by his courtiers came on horseback to inspect the work that was being done. He was seeing the progress and suddenly, his eye caught the sight of this happy lad snoring away without a care. The king got very angry.

“Hey You!” he shouted at the boy. The boy did not wake up. “Are you deaf?” he yelled at the boy again. The boy slowly opened his eyes as if nothing had happened and stretched his arms and body with a loud yawn, “Aaaaww”. He just looked around and was about to settle down once again when the King came near him.

“Who are you?” the king roared. “And without doing work, how dare you sleep huh?”

“I am the servant of Vanthi” said the boy in a sleepy voice. I had lot of food and am feeling sleepy”. So saying, he turned to sleep again when the furious king took out his cane and in a moment, the cane snapped on the back of the boy. The very next moment, the pain was felt by all the living beings around including the king and a loud “Aaaah!” emanated from all the people around there and the horses writhed and neighed in pain and the birds around shrieked in pain.

The King was shocked by what had happened and his mind went blank for a moment and the very next moment he understood that the boy was none other than Lord Shiva and he also understood that this great drama unfolded only for the sake of Vadhavooran, whom he had punished.

The same time, the boy disappeared and the flood waters receded. The King rushed to Vadhavooran  and sought his forgiveness. Vadhavooran accepted the apology but gave up his chief ministership and visited various temples of Uttarakosamangai, Tiruperunthurai, Tiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram and Chidambaram in Tamilnadu . He stayed back at Chidambaram which was close to his heart.

He composed many more hymns including Tiruvempavai , and Tiruppalliyezhuchi and one day again Lord Shiva came to him assuming the form of an old man and asked him to repeat the Tiruvachagam. He took some palm leaves and started to write down as Manickavasagar was reciting the Hymn. After the whole hymn had been written down, the man signed with his verse that “as Manickavasagar told, the Lord Tiruchittrambalam wrote this” and left the script on the steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The next morning, the script was picked up by the priests who were surprised to see the Lord’s signature. They asked Manickavasagar the meaning of the hymn for which he showed them the Lord Nataraja and said “he is the meaning of all that has been written” and then, Manickavasagar merged with the Lord as a flash of light. He was thirty two then.

The Tiruvachagam has been translated into English in by G.U.Pope in 1900  and again in 1921. Manickavasagar finds a place in the Nalvar (foursome) who are Thirugnanasambandar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar.

Nambiyandar Nambi

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)

The Story Of Nandanar


This is my 50th post on this blog and I thank all of you readers for the consistent encouragement which keeps the blog going!

This is the story of yet another Nayanar, by name Tirunaalaippovar, who is more popularly known as Nandanar.

On the banks of the river Kollidam, in Tamilnadu, there was this fertile village of Adhanur. In this fertile village was born the devout Shiva Bhakta, Nandanar.

Nandanar belonged to the caste of Paraiayar, which literally meant makers of the percussion instrument “Parai”. This instrument was made with wood with a covering made of animal skin and the people who made it were called Parayars, which later on became synonymous with the word ‘pariah’, by the British.

In those days the caste system was very much in vogue and Nandanar was considered to be of a very low caste. He was a great devotee of the Lord Shiva and had the name of the lord in his lips and heart always.

Once, Nandanar happened to go to the temple of Thirupunkoor to see the Lord and as was the custom then, did not go inside the temple. He was peering with great difficulty from outside as the view of the Lord was hidden by the huge statue of Nandi in front. Nandanar prayed with all sincerity and yearned to have one darshan of the Lord and lo and behold! The stone Nandi moved a bit to let Nandanar have a glimpse at his beloved Lord. The Nandi, who so moved, till this day remains in the same posture!!

Though he visited many Shiva temples, Nandanar longed to visit the temple of Lord Shiva at Chidambaram. Every day, he thought of going to Chidambaram but the thought that he was an untouchable and so could not visit the holy city deterred him from going. At the end of each day, he would tell his friends in Tamil “Naalai poven”, which meant ‘I will go tomorrow’. Since this became a regular feature, Nandanar came to be known as ‘Tirunaalai Povar’ and the villagers stopped believing that he would go to Chidambaram at all.

Nandanar also worked for a landlord as a farm labourer. In those days, the landlords belonged to the so called ‘upper caste’. Nandanar’s landlord also belonged to this section and was very strict in dealing with his employees. So, when Nandanar finally decided to visit the great temple of Shiva at Chidambaram and reluctantly asked permission for a day off, the landlord sarcastically told him that he could go the moment he had finished ploughing the fields. Although it may sound easy, the fields were not just one or two acres, but hundreds of acres in size and ploughing them single-handedly would take Nandanar the whole of the season. A heartbroken Nandanar could do nothing except pray in desperation to the Lord.

The next day, Nandanar went out to the fields to do the arduous task assigned to him. His determination to visit Chidambaram was such. As he reached the fields, he was amazed by the sight! The whole of the fields were ploughed and thoroughly ready for sowing seeds. The Landlord, who also happened to come there was shocked and surprised and realised that this Nandanar was not a simple devotee of Shiva. Seeing the fields and Nandanar, the landlord, more in fear and awe told Nandanar to go to Chidambaram immediately. An equally surprised Nandanar was extremely pleased and went to Chidambaram finally.

As he reached the city, he saw the smoke of the fire rituals being done in every home. And also came floating in the air the strains of the four Vedas. These were happening in every street of the town that Nandanar felt that he should not even go into the town as he would make the place ‘unholy’. So, he went around the town innumerable times for three days and feeling very depressed with himself sank into deep slumber outside the town. He had a wonderful dream. The Lord was ordering him to go to a particular place and walk through what seemed like fire. The Lord wanted to show the world that Nandanar was pure gold which comes out more shining when put through fire.

At the same time the temple priests had also a dream in which the Lord ordered them to create a sacrificial fire at a particular place outside the town. That was the place where Nandanar was. The puzzled priests went to the place and created a sacrificial fire and Nandanar understood that this was the fire the Lord directed him to walk through. He came in his tattered dirty clothes, totally dishevelled and taking the name of the Lord in his lips closed his eyes and walked through the fire. A very surprising thing happened. As he came out, he was a glowing figure with the sacred ash smeared on his body and he appeared like a divine being, with a divine aura glowing around him.

On witnessing this miraculous happening, the priests took Nandanar on their shoulders and took him inside the temple. On nearing the sanctum sanctorum, Nandanar got down paying obeisance to the Lord and as he went into the garba griha (sanctum sanctorum), he just vanished into thin air. He had merged with the Lord and the people were left astounded! Such was the devotion of Nandanar!

Nandanar’s story, though appearing in Periya Puranam, was much popularised by the poet Gopalakrishna Bharathi through his work “Nandanar Charitram” which was suited for Harikatha – a form of telling stories with songs interspersed in it. Gopalakrishna Bharathi lived in the 19th century in Tamilnadu.




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