Nandanar. In the village of Athanur in the Chola country, there lived a pious man called Nanda.
In the village of Athanur in the Chola country, there lived a pious man called Nanda. He belonged to the tiller class. We call them Harijans today. Nanda worked for the village, and lived on whatever the people gave him. Nanda was greatly devoted to God Siva.
Nanda gave leather pieces to Siva temples for free, because of his love for God.
Everyday Nanda stood at a distance from the temple and worshipped God. He could not go into the temple. In those days Harijans were not allowed entry into big temples.
Near Athanur was another village called Punkanur. In Punkanur is a great Siva temple. Nanda went to that village also to worship the God there. He could not go inside. So there also he prayed from outside the temple gate.
Siva temples have a stone bull in a sitting posture in front of the God. The bull is the animal God Siva rides.
So Siva temples have these carven bulls before the Linga.
At Punkanur, this stone bull is so big that Nanda could not see the God inside the temple. The bull shut off the view. Nanda felt sad because he could not see God.
At last, he prayed to God Siva, “O God! I have come here all the way to see you. The bull stands between you and me. Won’t you please ask the bull to move aside a little, so that I can see you?”
God was pleased by Nanda’s prayer. God asked the stone bull to move its head sideways. Lo! The bull did so, and Nanda could now see the God very well. He danced in joy and sang God’s praises.
Even today at Punkanur, the huge stone bull can be seen. It has moved aside a little.
In Chola Desa, there is the most holy temple at Chidambaram. It is the temple of God Nataraja. Nanda wanted to worship Nataraja there. Chidambaram was far off. And Nanda was constantly putting off his visit to it, saying all the time, “may be tomorrow”, “may be tomorrow”. So people started calling him the “man tomorrow”.
At last, one day Nanda was able to go to Chidambaram. He was happy to be there. But, he could not go into the temple. He went round and round the temple instead. He became tired and slept outside the gate at night. “God Nataraja appeared to him at night in his dream, and said, Nanda, tomorrow you bathe in fire and come inside my temple!”
God Nataraja also said to the priests of the temple in their dream, “My devotee Nanda waits outside. Light a big fire. Ask him to enter, and afterwards bring him into my temple.”
Accordingly, the next day, the priests met Nanda outside the gate. They lit a big fire and Nanda entered it joyfully. He was not at all hurt. He came out of the fire looking like a rishi.
Then the priests took him inside the temple.
But as soon as Nanda went near God Nataraja, he suddenly disappeared!
They say Nanda became one with God Nataraja.
Such was the devotion of Nanda.
We think of him today as a great saint and call him Nandanar.