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.