(pronunciation = 'ee-yaT-pagai')
By Swami Sivananda
"Charity, free from the mean utterance 'I have none' is found only among men of good birth." says the Holy Kural (Thirukkural).
Among such noble souls Iyarpagai ranked high. Charity was ingrained in him. It was his practice to invite Siva bhaktas to his house, worship them with faith and devotion and give them all they wanted. He had taken a vow never to say 'no' to what a Siva bhakta wanted.
Iyarpagai was a native of Kaveripoompattinam. He was a Vaishya by caste. To him Siva bhaktas were the living manifestations of God Siva.
God Siva was so pleased with His devotee that He wanted to reveal the Nayanar's true greatness to the world. So, the Lord, in the disguise of a Brahmin, with sacred ashes smeared all over his body, came to Iyarpagai's house.
Iyarpagai welcomed the Brahmin with great joy, as the very sight of the holy man thrilled the Nayanar.
The Brahmin said, "Oh noble soul, you are far famed for your charitable nature. Learning that none returns empty-handed from your house, I have come to you for a gift. I shall disclose it to you, if you promise to give what I want."
The Nayanar agreed readily saying, "...provided I have it with me."
The Brahmin at once revealed what he wanted, "It is the gift of your wife."
Iyarpagai had no difficulty at all in granting this! The supreme devotee of the Lord that he was, he did not stop to doubt the credentials of the Brahmin who, though he appeared to be a Siva bhakta, had such an undesirable desire such is the unquestioning nature of devotion. Nor would Nayanar hesitate to fulfill the bhakta's wish, on the plea that it involved unrighteousness for Nayanar, worship of the guest (Guest is God) was a greater Law than all the moral codes.
Iyarpagai went inside the house and informed his wife of all that had happened. She was shocked at first, but quickly regained her composure. To a chaste wife, the husband is God, and whatever he commands is Law and Dharma. She readily agreed to follow the Brahmin-guest as his wife. Nayanar came out with his wife and asked the Brahmin to accept the gift.
The Brahmin, however, feared the wrath of the wife's relatives and asked Iyarpagai to accompany them till they were safely out of the town and out of danger. Iyarpagai agreed to do so and armed himself to protect the Brahmin. They then proceeded to go.
In the meantime the relatives of Iyarpagai's wife came to know of the whole story and were furious. They followed the Nayanar and party and threatened the Brahmin with death, unless he abandoned his impious desire.
The Brahmin pretended to be scared. Iyarpagai's wife, however, assured him that Nayanar was capable of defeating them all. Nayanar was ready to fight them. The relatives endeavoured to convince Nayanar of the unrighteousness of the whole thing, and, when they found that they could not, they preferred to die at his hands, than submit to the shame.
Iyarpagai Nayanar at once pounced upon them and chopped off their heads. All of them died and Nayanar, happy at the thought, that through the grace of Lord Siva, he had succeeded in keeping his vow of worshipping His devotee, proceeded further with the Brahmin and the wife. When they reached the temple of Thiruchaikadu, the Brahmin asked Nayanar to leave them and return. Nayanar prostrated to the Brahmin and turned his steps homeward.
As he had hardly proceeded a few yards on his homeward journey, the Brahmin again called Iyarpagai aloud. Thinking that there might have been another attack on the party, Nayanar hastened to where the Brahmin was but, to his amazement, found that the Brahmin had disappeared and that his wife was standing alone there. He searched here and there for the Brahmin, and was worried when he could not be found. Lo and behold, Lord Siva and Mother Parvathi appeared in the sky and blessed Iyarpagai Nayanar and his wife, "Oh noble souls, I am immensely pleased with your devotion to my bhaktas. Both of you will very soon reach my abode."
With these words, the Lord disappeared. Iyarpagai and his wife reached God Siva's abode and rejoiced there. Nayanar's relatives who died at his hands also attained the lotus feet of the Lord.
Thus, had the Lord proved the nature of supreme devotion, which does not question. And, the Lord also revealed the truth that such unquestioning devotion does not result in the violation of Dharma. All glory to the Lord and His devotees.
Sekkilaar, and G. Vanmikanathan. Periya Puranam A Tamil Classic On The Great Saiva Saints of South India. Ed. Dr. N. Mahalingam. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2000.
Sivananda, Swami. Sixty-Three Nayanar Saints. World Wide Web edition. India: Divine Life Society, 1999.