Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Untouchable Saint Whom Shiva Loved

NANDANAR—The Untouchable Devotee of Lord Shiva

The Periapuranam, written by Sekkizhaar during the Chola period in the 11th Century, is a Tamil Classic on the great Shaivite saints of Tamil Nadu which gives us an account of the lives of these saints who lived in the Tamil kingdom hundreds of years ago. The lives of 63 such saints, called Nayanmars, are spoken of in the Periapuranam. These saints do not belong to any particular community and they represent all strata of the society-high, low, rich, poor, downtrodden, outcaste etc. They are highly respected for their utmost devotion to God. They proved by the example of their own lives how by the Path of Devotion it is possible to obtain Self-Realisation.

Periapuranam was the first religious book that Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi read when he was just a student, about 16 years old. The book interested him greatly and gave him a novel experience. As the book gives a moving account of the deep love of God, utter self-sacrifice and sublime communion with Him which marks the lives of the 63 Tamil saints , the book transported Raman to a different world altogether. In later days, Ramana was very fond of quoting several incidents in the lives of these saints to his devotees. Of these 63 saints, one of the most famous saints is Nandanar, the untouchable

During the Chola dynasty rule there lived a poor family in a village called Aathanoor in the delta region of the river Kaveri. In this poor family was born Nandanar. The family was housed on the outskirts of the village sine they were considered untouchables. Nandanar followed the family profession of drum-beating [for any local announcement] and making skin coverings for the drum which were sold to the nearby temples. The family lived in a slum with most unhygienic conditions. Although Nandanar grew up in this environment, right from his childhood he was filled up with a rapturous devotion to Lord Shiva. Describing his early life, the Periapuranam says “From the time he gained knowledgeable age, he was filled with a great love towards Lord Shiva. He would not even by forgetfulness think of anyone else And in his present birth he adopted the profession hereditary to his caste. And with an ideal of leading a righteous life, he transformed his profession itself into an act of service to God” [1052-12]

When Nandanar used to go to the various temples to sell the skin coverings, he used to stand before the sacred gates to the temple [as he was not allowed entry inside the temple] and dance and sing in ecstasy in praise of the Lord. One fine day, meditating unceasingly on the rosy feet of Lord Shiva, he went to a place called Thiruppunkur, known for another famous Shiva Temple. He stood at the temple gate outside for worshipping the Lord but the idol of the Nandi [bull] before the sanctum obstructed his view of the Lord. Thinking that some sin committed by him stood in the way of his having a direct Darshan of the Lord, he pleaded with the bull to slightly move to one side so that he could get a clear view of the Lord. Lo and Behold! The Lord desirous of giving him a proper Darshan probably ordered the Nandi to move. When Nandi moved laterally, Nandanar burst into devotional rapture and began to sing and dance.

In course of time, Nandanar travelled from place to place visiting several temples. However, he cherished a burning desire to go to Chidambaram, then called Thillai, and have Darshan of Lord Nataraja there. The desire grew greater and greater and the persistent thought of visiting Thillai disturbed his sleep. One night he could not sleep at all the whole night. Elaborating this condition of his, Sekkizhar says in the Periyapuranam “That night he would not close his eyes in sleep. When it dawned, he thought: “Proceeding there and the caste to which I belong do not suit each other”. Consoling himself with this thought, he would give up the attempt to go to Thillai. When the good idea became intense once again, he would say to himself ‘Tomorrow I will go there’ [Thrtu-Naalai Povaar in Tamil]. He must have spent several years saying to himself and others “Tomorrow I will go” so much so that people forgot his real name Nandanar in course of time and started calling him ‘Thiru Naalai Povaar Nayanar’

Unable to bear the frustration and despondency, one day Nandanar finally made up his mind and set out to Thillai and reached the Nataraja Temple premises. Describing this event, Sekkizhar writes;

“While he was going there, he fell prostrate
At the borders of Thillai
And, rising to his feet, he noticed
Several fires in the sacrificial fits
And columns of smoke rising therefore.[ Performance of Yajnas]
On his approaching the places
Where the Vedas were being recited,
He remembered his caste, grew frightened,
Ceased to move ahead any further,
And stood rooted to the spot” 1063—23

This thought of his low birth weighed heavily on him. One day he went to sleep saying to himself “This lowly birth of mine which gives me so much of trouble is the real obstruction”

The All-Knowing Lord Nataraja, who was aware of the state of agony of his devotee’s mind, immediately came to his rescue by appearing in his dream the same night. He spoke to him with a smile “ To get rid of your birth, Divine into a fire[Agni Pariksha] and come out with the chest adorned by the Sacred Thread [ Yajnopavita] , At the same time, the Lord appeared in the dreams of the Brahmins attached to the Temple and commanded them to prepare the sacrificial fire. Accordingly, the Brahmins prepared the fire, approached Nandanar and informed him of the Lord’s command. Nandanar came, worshipped the Lord and jumped into the fire. The moment he entered the fire, his delusive false appearance lost its form. Nandanar rose from the fire in the form of a sage with the sacred thread and matted locks to match. In the high sky, sounds of trumpet rose followed by rains of Mandaara flowers. Nandanar came out of the fire, entered the temple precincts to worship Lord Nataraja in the Kanaka Sabha [Golden Hall]. The Brahmins also accompanied him but when Nandanar reached the boundary line of the Hall where the Lord Nataraja was playing the Cosmic Dance, nobody saw Nandanar any more since he was absorbed by the Lord.

ARTICLE NO.404---NANDANAR, The Untouchable Devotee of Lord Shiva
Created: Friday, August 17, 2007 9:43 PM


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