(pronunciation = 'kaN-appar')
By Swami Sivananda
Nagan was the king of hunters at Uduppur in Pottapi Nadu. His wife was Tattai. They were great devotees of Lord Subramanya. By His grace, they had a child, after a long time. It was very heavy so, they named him Tinnanar.
Tinnanar was Arjuna in the previous birth, according to Thiru Kalahasthi Puranam. When he went to worship Siva, to get Pasupatha Astra, and when the Lord came to him as a hunter, Arjuna did not recognise Him. So, he had to be born as a hunter again and adore the Lord, before attaining final liberation.
Tinnanar was educated according to the hunters’ customs. He became a good archer. Even when he was young, his father retired, and crowned him king. Though he was a hunter and carried on hunting as his Dharma, Tinnanar was full of love and would not kill young ones, females, diseased animals, etc. Spiritually, he had already killed the animals within himself, viz., lust, anger, greed, vanity, etc.
One day, Tinnanar went out hunting. A pig escaped from its net and was running away. Tinnanar pursued it accompanied by two others, Nanan and Kadan. The pig was tired and stood near a tree. It was quickly killed by Tinnanar. They were tired, too, and thirsty. They proceeded towards the Ponmukali. Tinnanar wanted to climb the nearby mountain. Nanan, too, volunteered to follow him, saying that on the Kalahasthi hill, was Lord Kudumithevar (God with a Tuft). Kadan was busy cooking the pork.
Even when he began to climb the hill, there was a definite change coming over Tinnanar, owing to past samskaras. He felt that a great burden was being lifted off his shoulders. He was losing body-consciousness. As he saw the Lord there, he felt supreme love surging in his heart. He embraced the lingam and kissed It. He began to shed tears of joy. He felt that the Lord was lonely there, and that he should thenceforth remain with Him. Again, he thought that the Lord might be hungry. Though he was reluctant to leave the Lord alone, he quickly came down the hill to fetch some food for the Lord. He took the best pieces of the pork, tasted them and ear-marked the very best for Him. In the mean time, he gathered from Nanan that the Lord was worshipped daily with water, flowers, etc, before the food was offered to Him. So, he began to collect the other articles of worship. He filled his own mouth with water from the river. Flowers, he gathered and wore them on his head! He took the pork, bow and arrow and went up the hill again, alone this time.
At the temple, Tinnanar poured from his mouth, the water that he had brought for His worship. That was his ‘Abhishekam’. Then he decorated the Lingam with the flowers he had brought on his own head. This was his ‘Archana’. He then placed the pork before the Lord. He went out and stood guard for Him, at the entrance, lest some wild animals should hurt Him. In the morning again he went out to hunt and bring fresh food for the Lord.
In the mean time, Nanan and Kadan worried about the change that had come over Tinnanar (which they thought to be madness). They went and reported the matter to Tinnanar’s parents. They came and tried, in vain, to take him back. They, too, went away.
When Tinnanar left the temple in the morning to get food for the Lord, Sivagochariar (the temple priest), came there for the usual orthodox worship. He was horrified at the desecration that some unknown person had done in the temple. He was well versed in the Agamas (rituals of Siva-worship). He performed the necessary purificatory rites and took bath again and began his formal worship. He brought water in a holy pot, with a bandage around his own mouth, lest the breath of his mouth should pollute it. He brought fresh flowers in a holy basket. He brought fruits and sweets (newly made and unpolluted by anyone tasting it) before the Lord as an offering. Sivagochariar then went home after the worship.
Tinnanar returned with fresh meat. He removed the priest’s decorations, and did the worship in his own way, and then as usual, stood guard at the entrance.
This went on for five days. The priest was greatly upset about the desecration of the holy place. He appealed to the Lord to stop it. Lord Siva wanted to show Sivagochariar the nature of Tinnanar’s supreme devotion. He commanded him in a dream, to hide himself behind the Lingam, when Tinnanar went to the temple the next day, and watch what took place.
On the sixth day, Tinnanar went out as usual for getting the Lord’s food. While returning, he saw many ill omens, which made him feel that something had happened to the Lord he was so unconscious of himself, that he did not think that something could happen to him. He ran towards the Lord. He was grieved to see blood issuing from the Lord’s right eye. The articles he had brought for the worship dropped from his hand. He wept bitterly. He could not find who had done this to the Lord. He treated the eye with herbs he knew of. Still the bleeding did not stop. A simple idea occurred to him: ‘flesh for flesh’. At once, with his own arrow, he took out his own right eye, and fixed it over the right eye of the Lord. The bleeding stopped. He was very happy. When he was dancing in ecstasy, he noticed that now the Lord’s left eye had begun to bleed. But, since Tinnanar had already found out the remedy. There was only one problem how to locate the eye of the Lord, when his own eye had been pulled out. So, Tinnanar planted his foot at the place where the Lord’s left eye was on the Lingam, and began to pull his left eye out, with his arrow.
At once, Lord Siva caught hold of his hand and said, "My dear child, Kannappa! Stop plucking your eye." The Lord repeated the word Kannappa thrice. Kannappar was thrice blessed. Tinnanar became Kannappar, because he gave his own eye to the Lord. Lord Siva took him with both Hands, and kept him on His right side. Kannappar regained his vision and lived as god himself. Sivagochariar understood the true nature of devotion.
This story has an esoteric meaning, too. Nayanar had conquered all other evils but Anava (egoism), which had to be killed too. The wild pig represents this. Supreme bhakti dawned, the moment this was killed. In its chase, the seeker is accompanied by good and evil (the two hunters Nanan and Kadan). Nanan (good) described the glory of the Lord to him Nanan represents good Samskaras. Kadan (the evil) had to be left behind. The aspirant with good Samskaras, goes to the Lord's shrine. But, when he has to attain God-realisation, even this has to be renounced. Hence, Kannappar Nayanar, when he went to worship Lord Siva, went alone. Kannappar Nayanar’s parents (the hidden good and evil tendencies and worldly desires) tried but failed to take him away from God. The Lord asked the priest to hide behind Him, while Tinnanar was in front this means, true Bhakti is far superior to mere ritual. Tinnanar’s readiness to pluck out his own eyes for the Lord's sake is total self-surrender (or Atma-Naivedan), the highest peak of devotion which immediately reveals the Lord in all His glory.
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.