In the famed town of Thillai (Chidambaram), where the Lord’s dance witnessed by the Mother of the Universe, transcends beginning and end of everything, lived a devotee who was forever engrossed in the thoughts of the Lord. He was keen on serving the servitors of the Lord. He kept Hara enshrined in the lotus of his heart and led a disciplined married life fit for humble service.
He was a potter by profession and made pots and other clay items. In keeping with his occupation, he took upon himself to provide clay bowls to whoever bows down to the Lord who wields the Pinaka bow (Shiva). He was married to a very beautiful pious maiden whose heart overflowed with love for Lord Shiva. In her unspeakable states of divine ecstasy, she would be found chanting the name ‘Thiruneelakantam’, meaning ‘one with a blue throat’, an epithet that Lord Shiva got because he swallowed the poison that was threatening to destroy the whole creation. Since He is God, one may wonder how poison could affect Him even in the ever so small way by turning His throat blue. May be, it is just His way of giving His devotees comfort that no matter how poisonous the situation, He will come to their rescue.
Despite having all noble qualities, there appeared a blemish in the young couple’s life, as if spurred by fate. The potter’s youthful tendencies made him seek physical pleasure outside his marriage, that too with a courtesan. Though the pious wife was unhappy with her husband, she performed all the responsibilities of a dutiful wife. One day, he tried to pacify her with sweet words and physical advances. She immediately forbade him with the words “You should not touch me! (in the name of) Thiruneelakantam!” (The Tamil word used is ‘emmai’ which means both ‘us’ and ‘me’. Here it should be taken as ‘me’). At that very moment, hearing these words spoken in the Lord’s name, the potter took his hands off. With the reverence he had for the name of the great God who burnt Kama (lust), he himself pledged never to touch a woman even in his dream, since his wife had used the word ‘emmai’ which he took to mean ‘us’ (all the women).
When people who lead virtuous lives make mistakes, they raise the moral standards even higher and stick to them even more rigorously. Such people carve a name for themselves in the annals of history. The potter and his wife led a determined life full of self-control. They performed all duties of a married couple but abstained from the physical pleasures. Their arrangement remained their secret and to the world they were the ideal couple. It is probably easier to conquer the world than conquer the senses that too in the presence of a beautiful wife. For a person whose desire for bed pleasures led him to a courtesan, this self-imposed penance would have been far more difficult. But he did it just for the sake of the name of God. This would make him stand tall even in an assembly of great sages who control their senses by rigorous penance.
As years rolled on, the couple’s determination stayed the same. Even rocks would have crumbled, but not so the couple who stood steadfast by their oath. Their appearance changed, their youth and beauty replaced by infirmities of old age, but they held tightly the feet of the Oldest (Lord Shiva) in their heart.
To show to the world the path to be followed to attain liberation, the Greatest Sage who taught under the banyan tree (Shiva), appeared as an ascetic/Shiva yogi in front of the nayanar’s house. The nayanar welcomed the Shiva yogi as per the customs and waited on him for his orders. The Lord, who had come in disguise, handed the nayanar a clay bowl, which He claimed as very rare and precious, for safekeeping till He returned from His travels. The servitor of the Lord’s devotees, took the bowl and kept it in a secure place.
Now, the Thief among thieves who robs the rotten bonds from bound souls, made the bowl disappear. After many days, the Shiva yogi returned and claimed his clay bowl from the nayanar. The devotee of the Lord was shocked to not to find the bowl in the place where he had kept it. He searched all around his house, and was unable to find it. The Immortal Lord who witnesses the innumerable creations and destructions, in the form of the Shiva yogi, hurried the nayanar impatiently. The devotee informed the Shiva yogi about his inability to find the clay bowl, and promised to make a new one instead. The Bestower of Liberation, was adamant about the same clay bowl and even refused to take a golden bowl if given one. Since the nayanar was unable to return the clay bowl, the Shiva yogi accused him of cheating. The nayanar swore honesty. The Shiva yogi said he would trust the nayanar only if he swore his honesty while taking a dip in the pond holding his son’s hand. The nayanar informed the Shiva yogi that he did not have any offspring. The Shiva yogi then asked him to take the dip in the pond holding his wife’s hand. This the nayanar had to turn down because of the oath. Stomping out in anger, the Shiva yogi went straight to the court assembly of priests of the Thillai (Chidambaram) temple. Upon inquiry, the nayanar accepted that he had taken the bowl from the Shiva yogi but did not know how it disappeared. The court upheld the task assigned to the nayanar by the Shiva yogi for misplacing his clay bowl.
Without revealing the secret oath to his wife at the court, the nayanar came with her to the pond of Thiruppullcharam at the temple of Chidambaram, the abode of the Lord in eternal unity with His Shakti. The sinless potter came holding one end of a bamboo stick with the other end in his wife’s hand. He then explained to the gathering the reason behind not touching his wife. Both of them then took the dip holding the bamboo stick. When they came up, to their astonishment they were no longer old, their youth and beauty was restored. They looked around - the Shiva yogi had disappeared. Then there appeared on the horizon, the Lord with his Consort mounted on the Bull. The Lord praised both of them for their victory over the five senses. He blessed both with everlasting youth and a place with Him in His abode.
It’s not surprising that the great Pattinathar laments, "I am not as great as the devotee who sacrificed his youth for the oath to his wife in the name of the Lord". Let the respect Thiruneelakanta Nayanar gave to the name of the Lord and the determination he had in standing by the oath always remain in our minds.
Guru Pooja : Thai/Visakam or Kumbha/Vishaka
Har Har Mahadev