4. Ilayankudi Mara Nayanar
Ilayankudi Mara Nayanar was a farmer. Maranar was his name: he lived in a village called Ilayankudi. He was a great devotee of Lord Siva and His devotees. He took the greatest pleasure in serving them. This Sadhana was known as Maaheswara Puja (or worship of the devotees of Mahesvara or Lord Siva). It is described as follows:
‘On seeing a devotee of Lord Siva, with the external marks of Vibhuti, Rudraksham, etc., taking him as Lord Siva Himself, welcoming him, prostrating before him, washing his hands and feet, drinking that water (Charanamrit), giving him a seat, worshipping him with flowers, Doopa, Deepa, and Naivedya, pleasing him with sweet words, thanking the Lord for the opportunity, and accompanying the guest for some distance while sending him away—these constitute Maaheswara Puja. This is also included in Chariyai (one of the main Saivite disciplines).´
Offering food to the Lord´s devotees had purified his heart and made him a fit receptacle for the grace of God. As Tiruvalluvar has said in the Kural:
Fortune dwells with a delighted heart in
the house of the man who honours his
guest with a pleasant countenance.
Nayanar had been blessed with all the wealth of the world. But, he considered that the wealth belonged to the Lord, to be utilised for the benefit of His devotees.
Lord Siva was highly pleased with the Nayanar´s devotion. He wanted to show to the world that His devotee would be undaunted by the worst calamity and would remain unshaken in his virtue. Nayanar´s wealth melted away. His wealth had left him, but not his virtue. On the contrary, his devotion to the Lord and His devotees grew more and more intense. Nayanar sold all his property and had to sell even himself in order to be able to serve the devotees of the Lord.
One day it was raining heavily. Nayanar and his wife were starving. No one came forward to help them. Finally, he bolted the door and was about to fall asleep. Just then he heard a knock at the door, and, on opening it, found a Siva Bhakta standing in front of the house, drenched with rain. Nayanar at once took the guest inside, dried his body and gave him fresh clothes to wear. ‘Rest awhile, Swami, while we prepare some food for you to appease your hunger,´ said Nayanar and told his wife of his predicament: there was nothing to offer the devotee of the Lord. But, the devout wife suggested that Nayanar could go into the backyard and collect the grain-seeds that they had just sown that very day. Nayanar accepted the suggestion. On account of the heavy rain, the grains were floating and it was easy to collect them in a basket. As soon as he brought the grains, the wife fried and crushed them, and with the help of some greens that grew in their own backyard, cooked a nice dinner for the guest.
Nayanar was supremely happy. And, as he went to awaken the guest, he discovered that he had disappeared. At the same time, Nayanar saw in sky, Lord Siva Who had come in the form of the devotee and Mother Parvathy showering Their blessing on him and his wife. The Lord said: ‘Oh noble souls, I am highly pleased with your devotion. You will soon attain My Abode and live there for ever.´