Let us relish the story of Nandanar, who later came to be known as 'Thiru Naalai Povar Nayanmar'. Born in the village of Adanoor, close to Mayiladuthurai. Nandanar had deep affection for Lord Shiva.
With the grace of the Lord, he had enough food to eat. He believed in doing his work righteously, which included his service to the Lord. As was his family tradition and customs that prevailed those days, Nandanar served the Lord by offering animal skin for the temple drums, strings for the instruments played in the temple, and some raw material to prepare the fragrant incense for the temple use.
Since entry into the temple was restricted, he would always have darshan of Lord Shiva from outside the temple. But this did not deter the Nayanmar's devotion or service to the Lord. He would offer the materials to the temple priest from the temple gates and have darshan. After having a glimpse of the Lord from here, he would jump with joy and dance in ecstasy!
One day, he went to Tirupunkur to do his regular service. He stood in front of the temple and eagerly tried to have a glimpse of Lord Shiva from outside. To his dismay, he could not see his Lord as the Nandi that was present in front of the Lord was blocking his view. Nandanar cried out to Lord Shiva in desperation and the Lord, pleased with his devotion, made the Nandi move a little, thus granting Nandanar the Divine darshan.
After having the darshan, he saw a pothole near the temple. He immediately thought he can serve the Lord's devotees if the pothole could be dug into a pond. The water body would serve them as a place not only for having a bath before entering the temple but also provide them with water for the Abhishekam (ritual of pouring water on the Temple deity) of the Lord! After working on the pothole, Nandanar was motivated to dig small ponds near many temples. This became another opportunity for him to serve Lord Shiva and His devotees.
Nandanar also nurtured a desire to visit Thillai (Chidambaram) to see his Lord in the form of Nataraja- the Lord of Cosmic Dance. He knew that it would be impossible to enter the huge temple because of the customs that were prevalent then. Yet the urge to have darshan of Nataraja was so much that every day he would tell everyone that he will visit the temple the next day. Thus, Nandanar got the name, ‘Thiru Naalai Povar’, meaning ‘One who would go tomorrow’!
Finally, one day, the call came. Lord Shiva, who has different forms, granted his darshan in a unique way to Nandanar at Chidambaram.
Nandanar went to Chidambaram and wondered how to take darshan of the Lord from the temple gate as the temple was too big. His desire to see the Lord was intense but the circumstances were not in his favour.
Feeling dejected, he roamed around the outskirts of the temple and slept with exhaustion. The compassionate Lord appeared in Nandanar’s dream and told him that he would be able to enter the temple the next day and have the Lord’s darshan. He would have to step into a fire that would be arranged by the Thillai Vaazh Anthanars!
Nandanar was gripped with joy, and not fear! As instructed by the Lord, the Thillai Vaazh Anthanars arranged a fire. Nandanar stepped into it with his mind fixed on the lotus feet of Lord Shiva. Within a few minutes, he emerged from the fire in the form of a dazzling sage. He stepped into the temple, with the Anthanars leading him into the holy shrine. But when they turned to look for him, he had disappeared. Nandanar had merged with the Lord!
The Lord was so pleased with Nandanar’s sincere devotion that He decided to transform him into a great sage worthy of merging with the Divine!
The story of Nandanar is a candid message that what matters to the Lord is pure heart, unsullied devotion and dedication. No matter what the challenges are, posed by the society, the Lord accepts and takes care of His devotees.