This is the story of Appoodhi Adigal who is one of the sixty three saivite saints (Nayanmars).
Appoodhi was a Brahman living in Thingaloor, which is situated near Tiruvaiyaru of Tanjore District. He was a great philanthropist as he believed that service to mankind was service to God. He built many buildings, roads etc. and used to erect ‘Thanneer Pandhals’ in summer. Thanneer Pandhals were kiosks erected to supply cool water and buttermilk to thirsty people in summer.
Appoodhi Adigal was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He had heard a great deal about Tirunavukkarasar Nayanar and revered him equal to God even without seeing him! (We should remember here that all that was known to him was through word of mouth. There were no newspapers or radio or any sort of social media!)
His respect for Tirunavukkarasar was so much that he named everything, every being, as Tirunavukkarasar. The road built by him was Tirunavukkarasar road, his cows were named Tirunavukkarasar, the things in his house were referred to with Tirunavukkarasar as a suffix, and his sons were also named Periya Tirunavukkarasar (meaning eldest), Nadu Tirunavukkarasar (meaning middle), Siriya Tirunavukkarasar (meaning junior).
Once, it so happened that Tirunavukkarasar Nayanar (the saint) was visiting a temple near Thingaloor. Since it was a hot day, he went to have some water at the Thanneer Pandhal there. Just as he had water, he noticed the name engraved in bold letters “TIRUNAVUKKARASAR THANNEER PANDHAL”. He was amused that his name was written so boldly and enquired with the people there about this. The people (who apparently did not recognise him) told him about the devotion Appoodhi had towards Tirunavukkarasar Nayanar and told him that Appoodhi had just left the Pandhal a while back to his house which was nearby. Tirunavukkarasar wanted to meet Appoodhi and went to his house.
Sighting a devotee of Lord Shiva outside the entrance of his house, Appoodhi came hurriedly and welcomed him with all warmth. Tirunavukkarasar then congratulated Appoodhi on the good work he was doing but asked him why everything was named after someone else and not in his name itself.
Appoodhi Adigal was enraged at the word “someone else” and he admonished the saint about not knowing about Tirunavukkarasar despite being a Saivite saint. He then extolled the virtues of Tirunavukkarasar to the saint himself much to the amusement of Tirunavukkarasar.
The time had come for Tirunavukkarasar to disclose his identity. “I am that ‘some else’” said he, much to the pleasant shock of Appoodhi Adigal. “I am that Navukkarasar who was tested by Lord Shiva many a time”. Appoodhi Adigal was overwhelmed with joy and tears rolled down his cheeks. He did not for a moment know what to do. Then, he called out to his wife and children and introduced Tirunavukkarasar to them. They were equally overjoyed and honoured the saint by washing his feet. They fell at his feet for blessings. Appoodhi Adigal insisted that Tirunavukkarasar should have lunch with them and Tirunavukkarasar agreed.
Appoodhi’s wife cooked a good meal and called out to her elder son. “Periya Tirunavukkarasu” said she, “go to the garden and get a big plantain leaf for the guest”. The boy hurried with a knife in hand and just as he cut the leaf, a poisonous snake dug its fangs onto his leg. The boy saw the snake slither away and realised that he would fall dead any moment, but his only thought was that the banana leaf should be delivered to his mother so that the guest would not be delayed for lunch. So, he ran back staggering under the effect of the poison which was working really fast. He handed over the leaf to the mother and fell dead at her feet.
The lady immediately realised what had happened and was shell shocked and called in her husband and told him what had happened. But then the foremost thought in both their minds was that the guest should not go away if he knew this had happened. So, they both decided to pretend that nothing had happened. They wrapped the body of their son in a mat and kept it in the back yard.
Tirunavukkarasar was invited to the inner room where the lunch was to be served. It was the habit of Tirunavukkarasar to smear the Vibhuti (Holy Ash of Lord Shiva) before partaking food. So, he smeared the Vibhuti on himself and also gave the same to Appoodhi, his wife and younger son.
Noticing that the elder son was absent he asked Appoodhi, “Where is Periya Tirunavukkarasu? Call him, for I will give him also Vibhuti before I start eating”. Appoodhi could say nothing and said, “He is not in a position to come now O’ Lord. Please go ahead and have your food”. (Note here that he did not tell a lie).
Tirunavukkarasar was insistent. “No”, he said, “please call him. I will have food only after I give him Vibhuti”. Now Appoodhi Adigal had no other go than to tell him the real reason. He reluctantly told him what had happened. Even now Tirunavukkarasar could note that the couple were more concerned that the guest should not go away without having food.
Tirunavukkarasar was moved by the philanthropic attitude of the entire Appoodhi family including the son who delivered the leaf before he died. He told Appoodhi Adigal to bring the body of his son to the Shiva Temple there. Appoodhi Adigal and his wife, trembling with mixed emotions, brought the body of their son and placed him outside the temple. Tirunavukkarasar then, prayed to Lord Shiva and sang ten songs starting with “Onru Kolaam”. The dead boy got up as if waking up from sleep and came and got the blessings of his parents and Tirunavukkarasar. The onlookers were surprised beyond measure.
Tirunavukkarasar went back to Appoodhi’s house and had food. It is said that even at that juncture Appoodhi and his wife were asking for forgiveness for the delay caused by their family in feeding the guest!!! Tirunavukkarasar stayed with Appoodhi family for some time giving them great joy!!
Appoodhi Adigal was accorded the status of a Nayanar due to his unparalleled love for service to humanity which is ultimately service to Lord Shiva.