26. Tiruneelanakka Nayanar
Tirusattamangai was an important city in the Chola kingdom. It was a place full of spiritual vibrations and Siva Bhakti. The Brahmins were devoted to the study and recitation of the Vedas and worship of the Lord. And, the women were devoted to their lord (the husband) and served them as they would serve God Himself. It is situated seven miles east of Nannilam. There is a temple in this place called Ayavanthi. The Lord presiding over this is Ayavanthi-Nathar. His Consort is Malarkanni Ammai.
In this city there lived the glorious Brahmin, Tiruneelanakka Nayanar. He was well versed in the Agamas and was regular in his ritualistic worship of the Lord. On a Tiruvathirai day he was devoutly worshipping the Lord in the temple. His wife was also with him. A spider fell upon the Siva Lingam, when the worship was in progress. The saint’s wife, without a moment’s hesitation, blew it away, and spat on the spot where it had fallen, on the Siva Lingam—this is what they do when a spider falls on the body of a child or other human being. But, the husband was enraged at the wife’s sacrilegious action: she had spoilt the worship and polluted the temple by spitting on the Lingam. Without a second thought, he abandoned her and returned home.
The lady appealed to Lord Ayavanthinathar for his mercy. He appeared in the saint’s dream that night and showed him His body—all the parts of His body except that on which his wife had spat, had been affected by the spider poison. He realised that Bhakti was superior to ritualistic worship. He recalled the glimpse of the Lord he had, in his dream and rejoiced, rolled on the ground, wept out of sheer joy and danced. The next morning he went to the temple and worshipped the Lord, and returned home with his wife, the noble devotee to whom the Siva Lingam was not a stone, but a Living Presence.
Once Tiru Jnana Sambandar visited his place with Tiruneelakanta Perumbanar and Virali. Tiruneelanakka Nayanar was very eager to meet the great saint Sambandar. He welcomed the saint with due honours. That night, Sambandar asked Tiruneelanakkar to give some accommodation to the other two who were with him. They were not of the ‘high’ (Brahmin) caste! Tiruneelanakka Nayanar hesitated to let them sleep inside the house. He asked them to sleep near the sacrificial pit. As soon as they went near the pit, the Nayanar was astounded to see that the sacrificial fire began to burn of its own accord. He understood that, through the fire of their devotion they had attained to a stage which was far higher than what mere ritual could lead to. The mist of caste distinction also vanished from the eyes of Nayanar. Next morning, Sambandar went to the temple and sang a song in which he glorified Tiruneelanakka Nayanar also. When Sambandar wanted to leave the place, Tiruneelanakkar also wanted to accompany him: but Sambandar instructed him to stay there itself and serve the Siva Bhaktas. He obeyed.
He was, however, longing to be always at the feet of Sambandar. Soon his wish was fulfilled. He heard of Sambandar’s marriage, and went to Nallur Perumanam to witness it. When Sambandar got merged in the Light of Lord Siva, Tiruneelanakka Nayanar also got merged in it.