These days, the faith of even the most dedicated of religious minded ones, is delicate at best. The slightest discomfort or inconvenience leads to questioning and lamenting at their ishta devata.
Once however, there lived a great saint in the lands of tamilnadu, who would not let the 5 syllabled mantra of Na Ma Shi Va Ya go, even when tied to a stone and thrown at sea or when an elephant was set to trample upon him. Such was his faith in Shiva.
His name was Thirunavukkarasar ( Ruler of the tongue, i.e proficiency in speech ) , but is popularly known as Appar. (Father), and is 1 of the 4 Pillars of Tamil Saiva Siddhanta ( Shaivism).
Appar was taken care by his widowed sister since young, who had lost her husband, an army commander during war. As he grew, Appar got attracted to the non-violence preached by Jainism and took to the study of their scriptures and converted, eventually becoming a renowned scholar.
His sister, a staunch devotee of Shiva was distraught that her brother had left their age old Saivism and prayed to Lord Shiva at Thiruvathigai ( Veerateeswarar ) for the return of her brother.
In time, Appar was stricken by a painful illness of the stomach and none of his Jain brethren could cure his ailment.
Meeting his sister at Thiruvathigai, she applied holy ash in Shiva’s name and got his to intake some of the bhasma, this cured Appar not just of his ailment but also his fascination of Jainism.
It is in this temple where he first sang the praises of Shiva and got the name Thirunavukarasar for his command of the language.
Thirunavukarasar’s abandonment of Jainism did not sit well with the ministers of the Jain King Manhendravarman.
Fearing such an act would lead to more reverting back to the old religion of Saivism.
Appar was first thrown into a hot furnace but came out unscathed. Next the royal elephant was made to trample upon him but instead went around him in reverence. Finally he was tied to a rock and thrown into the sea.
Appar came back up floating while singing the now famous verses.
Katrinai Pooti Oru kadalil Paaichinum
Natrunai Aavathu Namachivaayavey
though men tie on me two weighty stones,
And sink me in the ocean’s depth, In the cry
‘Hail Siva’ would my salvation be.
This convinced The King of the Saintliness of Appar, and he converted the country back to the old religion of Saivism.
Appar was still unhappy and felt tainted by his old association with Jainism deriding Shiva and prayed to Shiva to remove his taint, and was blessed with the mark of the holy Trishul and Nandi Deva on his shoulders.
Appar travelled all over the tamil lands, singing his verses in every Shiva temple he went to. He carried with him a Uzhavaram, a small spade like device used to perform the service of cleaning up dilapidated Shiva temples.
Along the way he was noted for performing many miracles.
Once he was invited for Bhojana in the home of the great Devotee , Appudi Adigal. Unfortunately , Appudi’s son while taking Banana leaf from the garden to serve food for the arriving Saint, was bitten by a snake and died.
Such was the devotion to the Saint, that Appudi and his wife hid the fact and served the Saint. Upon realizing the incident, Appar sang praises for Shiva and brought the dead child back to life.
Even death, had to take a step back when with an absolute devotee of Shiva, as seen from the story of Markandeya.
The Saint sang many verses on the sanctity of the 5 Syllable mantra Namah Shivaya such as
Vinnura Adukiya Viragin Vevvazhal
Unniya Pugilavai Ondrum Illaiyam
Panniya Ulaginil Payindra Paavathai
Explaining how, even if one was the stack firewood up til the sky, one light ember from a matchstick would reduce the skyhigh stack of wood into ashes within a short period of time.
Likewise, even if one is beseeched by the endless karma of previous lifes, the holy mantra of Namashivaya would reduce all of them to ashes eventually.
Appar attained Samadhi at Thiruppugalur, but his verses in the Thevaram are still sung in many Shiva temples in Tamilnadu and in the homes of tamil saivas throughout the world.
– Thiruchitrambalam , Karuppar Thunai