Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kannappa Nayanar

Kannappa Nayanar or Kannappan was one of the 63 Nayanmars or holy Saivite saints, the staunch devotees of Lord Shiva.

Birth and Life

Kannappa Nayanar was born in a tribal family in and around the temple town of SriKalahasti, in present day Andhra Pradesh. He was named Thinnan or Dheeran by his parents.

He hunted in the forest around SriKalahasti and the hills - Sripuram and Mummidi-cholapuram. 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 Thinnan. They were tired and thirsty. They proceeded towards the Ponmukali. Thinnan wanted to climb the nearby mountain. Nanan, too, volunteered to follow him for in the Kalahasthi hill, there was Lord Kudumithevar (God with a Tuft). Kadan, however, was busy cooking the pork.

Even when he began to climb the hill, there was a definite change coming over Thinnan, 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.

One day, Lord Shiva tested the unshakable devotion of Thinnan. With his divine power, He created a tremor and the roof-tops of the temple began to fall. All the sages ran away from the scene except for Thinnan who covered the linga with his body to prevent it from any damage. Hence he was named thereafter as Dheeran.

Thinnan started performing service by bringing water from the river in his mouth and bathing the image of the Lord by emptying the water he carried in his mouth onto the Lingam. He would chew meat to ascertain its suitability before offering the choicest bits to his deity.

When he left for hunting, a sage came who was shocked at the sight of strewn bones and flesh in front of the Lord. After prostrating, the sage cleaned the altar and performed his own puja before returning to his hermitage.

This continued for many days. To explain the love of his huntsman devotee, God appeared to the sage and told him, 'Don't think he is a scoundrel. His form is full of my love, his mind thinks of me only and his deeds are delightful for me. The water he spits on me is more sacred than Ganga, the flowers he offers taking from his head are holier than that are offered by Devas. It is all because of His love. You can see the excellence of his devotion tomorrow, if you hide and watch'.

It was the seventh day of Thinnans worship. When he arrived at the Lingam he was shocked to see that one eye of the Diety was bleeding. While worrying about his inability to find a solution, he remembered an old saying flesh for flesh. So, immediately Thinnan plucked out one of his own eyes with a sharp arrow and placed it onto the bleeding eye of the Lords. Thinnan jumped up and down in excitement when the bleeding from the Deity’s eye stopped.

But as it stopped in the right eye, blood started to ooze from the other eye. After a moment Thinnan told himself, 'I know the medicine. I have one more eye. That should cure this'. But when he was about to pluck out his remaining eye, he realized the difficulty of placing the eye in position once he took out his remaining eye. So he held his foot on the Deity’s eye as a mark, and raised the arrow to take his remaining eye out.

The Lord Himself was not able to bear this great action, and appeared and holding the devotee's hands to stop him from plucking the remaining eye, called out:

'Oh halt Kann Appa, Kann Appa Since you gave your own eyes for me, you will be called Kannappan (the person who gave eyes to the Lord) hereafter.' And with that contact the devotee's sight was fully restored and the Lord pleased with his devotion granted him eternal bliss.


On the southern hill of the Kalahasti Temple, there is the shrine of Kannabeswara in his memory (Kannappa = Thinnan, eswara = Shiva which means "Kannappa, the devotee of Shiva").

Reincarnation of Arjun

Some Saivite traditions believe that Kannappa was the reincarnation of the Pandava - Arjuna. Arjuna worshipped Siva for seeking the Pasupatha Astra (a divine weapon) and failed to recognize Shiva when He appeared before Arjuna in the form of a hunter. Thus, due to this reason, Arjuna had to be born as Thinnan/ Kannappa, the hunter and adore the Lord before attaining final liberation.

This story has an esoteric meaning, too. Nayanar had conquered all other evils: but, ego must 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. 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 Thinnan was in front: this means, true Bhakti is far superior to mere ritual. Tinnanar?s readiness to pluck out his own eyes for His sake is total self-surrender; the highest peak of devotion which immediately reveals the Lord in all His glory.

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