Volume 15 - Issue 02
February 2017
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Posted on: Feb 24, 2017

The Saint Who 'Covered' Shiva With His Seva

The sublimating heights of service and sacrifice that Sai Shiva teaches us through the life
of His precious servitor Saint Amaraneedi Nayanar

Periyapuranam is a book in poetic Tamil, compiled and written by Sekkizhar in the 12th Century. It is an account on 63 saints whose lives were sublimated through devotion to Lord Shiva. It is also referred to as Thiru-Thondar-Puranam, a scripture on the holy servitors. And as that name suggests, many of these saints reached the state of worship-worthiness through their dedicated service. They considered the opportunity to serve those who had renounced worldly life and dedicated themselves to the contemplation of Lord Shiva, as their service to the Lord Himself.


Amaraneedi Nayanar is the seventh saint to be written about in the Periyapuranam. Amaraneediyar was born in the business community in the city of Pazhayarai, the ancient capital of the Chola Kingdom. He came to be known as an honest businessman who had a flourishing trade in gold, jewels and fine fabrics. He was blessed with prosperity, a good name and an adorable family, yet his mind was ever immersed in the thoughts of Lord Shiva, ever craving for an opportunity to serve those devoted to the Lord of matted locks. He did not draw happiness from his possessions, rather from using them to serve the needy and the devoted. But what would those renunciants, who had given up all attachment to the world, ever need?

Apart from offering them food sweetened by his devotion to Lord Shiva, he began offering them a loincloth (Kowpeenam), the only garment most of these yogis wore. Thus, Amaraneediyar and his wife sanctified their time and wealth by feeding and clothing devotees of the Lord, with a feeling that they were feeding and clothing the matchless Lord Himself.

Is it ever possible that such devotion does not reach the Lord? It indeed did and Lord Shiva who delights in testing and playing with His devotees chose to enact a small leela in the life of this pure devotee. Once Amaraneediyar and his family set out to have darshan of the three-eyed Lord at Thirunallur and also participate in the temple festival there. He created a shelter there for the visiting pilgrims to stay and partake of food that he and his family lovingly served.

After the completion of the festival, Amaraneediyar decided to stay on for a few more days to bask in the glory of the Lord of Thirunallur, Kalyanasundareswarar. It was then that the Lord chose to visit him in the garb of a Brahmachari. Wearing nothing but a loincloth and having no possessions but a staff to which were tied two spare loincloths, the Lord came to the shelter of Amaraneediyar.

The third eye was concealed and the forehead was smeared with the sacred ash. The Lord who had accepted the service of this pure servitor through many a devotee now had come to accept it Himself in the form of a devotee—a form He had created just to confer bliss on Amaraneediyar.

The businessman-devotee was thrilled to receive this guest, who from his very appearance proved that he had given up all attachments to worldly possessions. Amaraneediyar humbly bowed to him and offered his services. The celibate said in a firm tone, “I have no need for your charity of a loincloth. I wear one, and I have two tied to my staff at all times. These rags are enough to keep me richly covered. What more does a renunciant need? I am going now to the river Cauvery for my bath. The sky looks overcast and it may possibly rain, and if it does, my spare clothes would be drenched.” Saying so He removed one of the clothes tied to his staff and handed them to Amaraneediyar. He continued, “I leave this one in your custody, I will come and take it back after my holy dip.”

With His own name on His lips and playing the role assumed to perfection, the Lord left the shelter. Amaraneediyar who humbly received the garment with both arms outstretched placed it with care in a safe place. Where others would place gold and precious gems, he placed with reverence this rag. Amaraneediyar was truly a wealthy man, rich with the true treasures of humility, reverence, and above all, devotion to the Lord.

A while thereafter, the ‘Brahmachari’ returned all drenched. The one who was never drenched by the Ganga that flows from His very locks pretended to have been caught in the downpour. Dripping from head to toe and holding the staff with the drenched loincloth, the Lord had returned to continue the play.

He called out to Amaraneediyar and said, “As expected the rains did come. Now even my spare garment is wet. It was indeed thoughtful of me to leave one with you. Proceed quickly and bring me the cloth I left with you for safekeeping.” Amaraneediyar rushed to the place where he had kept the cloth and to his utter dismay found it missing. The devotee's heart began to race. What would he tell the mendicant? Would he accept an explanation and would he accept a replacement?


He called his wife and asked her about the cloth he had kept there. The wife told him that no one even came into that room and she was clueless as to how this could have happened. The Lord who can steal our hearts without our knowledge, how difficult could it be for Him to whisk away this piece of rag! Lord Shiva is referred to as Digambara, the One for whom the directions and the sky alone are garments meaning, the five elements merely form the garment that He adorns. The loincloth which merely represented the five elements must have returned to their elemental form. Whatever be the secret behind the leela, the purpose was about to unfold.

From the heap of clothes that he had kept aside for charity, Amaraneediyar picked up a loincloth of far finer quality and came to the guest who was now beginning to lose patience. The celibate wanderer looked at the couple hesitantly walking towards him holding a new loincloth; they were pale with fear. The mendicant appeared to be holding back his rage only to hear what the couple were trying to say. The moment he heard of their prayer to accept a new cloth for his old one, which seemed to have mysteriously vanished, he flew into a wild rage.

“You vile man! So this is the kind of trade you do? Steal the possessions of guileless renunciants and then offer them charity! Are you trying to win the grace of the Lord through such meanness? Or do you trade with the stolen possessions to earn greater wealth?”

Amaraneediyar fell at the feet of the renunciant and pleaded to forgive him with all sincerity. He offered any number of clothes in place of the one he had lost. He even said that he was prepared to replace it through the gift of gold and precious stones. But did the Master of all the wealth of all the universes come to receive merely fine pieces of fabric or glittering trinkets? He had come seeking something much more than that. Feigning disgust the Lord said, “Ah! Do you think all these pieces of clothes are equal in value to mine? What does a Yogi like me have to do with your worldly wealth? I will accept only that cloth which is as worthy and equivalent to my loincloth.”

What a play this was! The one who contemplates on Lord Shiva loses all sense of attachment but here was the Lord Himself pretending to be obstinately attached to a piece of loincloth!

Amaraneediyar was perplexed and he prayerfully pleaded, “How am I to find a cloth equivalent to yours, master, also given that I have lost it? Please tell me what to do. I am utterly ashamed of myself and would do anything in contrition.”

“Only the other loincloth I use is equivalent to the one you carelessly misplaced,” said the Lord. “May a balance be brought. I will place this one on one plate. Give me the cloth that balances mine.” Amaraneediyar was thrilled that there was after all a way to atone for his lapse. Immediately a balance was brought and the renunciant placed one of his wet loincloths on one side. The merchant devotee brought a bundle of his finest fabrics and began placing them on the other side, one by one.

By then people began to gather there and were stupefied to see the sight. It was as if there was on the pan not a loincloth but a boulder, and every cloth Amaraneediyar placed on the other pan was like a dainty feather. The balance remained unmoved!

Amaraneediyar trembling with fear begged the Brahmachari that he be permitted to place the gold and jewellery on the other plate, for cloth seemed to be no match for his garment. “Try what you may”, said the Lord smiling within but wearing a scorn without. The merchant and his wife rushed inside and brought all the gold and jewellery they had. When one has no attachment to such wealth, a state Amaraneediyar had truly reached, there will be no qualms in letting go. He placed all that he had on the pan unhesitatingly but to no avail. Those gathered were flabbergasted but did they realise that here was the Lord Himself? Or did they merely wonder at the yogic heights this celibate had reached?

Amaraneediyar turned to his wife and discussed something in hushed tones. He then prostrated at the feet of this mysterious mendicant and made his final offer. “Master, I have placed on the balance all my possessions. Now, I earnestly seek your permission so that my wife, my son and I can place ourselves on the balance. Please accept this offer and give us your benign consent.”


Finally, the play had entered its last act. As the people watched with bated breath, Amaraneediyar and his family reverentially circumambulated the pan on which was placed the magical garment and said in prayer, “Oh Lord, if it be true that in devotion and service to You we have been pure and sincere, may the pans come to balance.” Together they chanted the potent panchakshari mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ and ascended the pan. The pan now weighed heavily not with the family but with pure, unsullied love. Instantly the pans came to balance!

Those who watched were thrilled but even as they witnessed this miracle, they realised that the celibate mendicant was no more amidst them. Amaraneediyar and his family looked up and in the far horizon, the Lord and the Divine Mother appeared beaming their beatific smile of acceptance. The very balance carried the blessed family to the abode of Lord Shiva, for now they belonged to the Lord Himself. And for ages to come, Amaraneedi Nayanar will stand as an example for the truth that service offered with a pure selfless heart can lead one to ultimate salvation.

Swami would often quote these lines from the Mundaka Upanishad, ‘Na karmana na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike amrutatvamanashuhu.’ (Not by actions, wealth, or progeny but by sacrifice alone is immortality attained.) Once, explaining the quote Swami said that it is not through karma (actions) one attains immortality, but through the combination of karma and tyaga, that is, when one performs actions and sacrifices the fruits of those actions. Not through virtuous children does one attain release from the cycle of birth and death, but when one brings up children with an attitude of detachment and trusteeship. And not through dhanam (wealth) but through the combination of dhanam and tyaga. Swami explained that dhanam is not merely material wealth but even knowledge, skill and energy. One has to use all of these in the service of others.

Amaraneediyar had led such a life. His acts of service had purified his heart and made it a fitting offering to the Lord. Maybe the Lord wanted to show the world through His devotee that dearer to Him than all the wealth, finery and even service was the heart filled with pure, selfless devotion. And that state of the heart is reached through service and sacrifice.

Whenever Bhagawan would take students with Him to Kodai, on one of the days during the stay He would send all the students for shopping after giving each one some pocket money. That evening, each of them had the sweet opportunity to show Him their purchase.

During the 2007 Kodai trip when Swami sent the entourage for shopping, one of the boys had bought two shawls: one pink in colour and the other ochre. When his turn came, he walked up to Swami and placed both on His lap. The ochre one was a perfect match for the robe Swami was wearing and the boy was happy for he had chosen well.

The student said, “Swami, the pink one is for my mother and the other is for You.” “For Me? I don't use shawls. I have plenty in the wardrobe that I keep distributing them to all”, said Swami. The disappointed boy persisted, “Swami, I know Swami does not ‘need’ anything, but please accept this offering of mine. It is an offering from all of us.”

Returning the shawls Swami told him to give both to his mother. “Please Swami”, he pleaded and again pointing to the shawls he said, “That one is for matha, but this one is for Sai Matha.” Swami then made a profound remark. “Sai Matha ku ivvalasindhi vere, Sai Matha ku ivvalasindhi idi! (What has to be given to Swami is different. What has to be given to Swami is this!)”, He said pointing to the boy's heart. “Adi kappukontanu! (I will cover Myself with that!)”.

Lord Shiva came to Amaraneediyar, drenched and shivering, not seeking His garment but His devotee's pure heart. For, then, now and forever, the Lord only wishes to be enshrouded and covered by a devotee's heart, purified by service and selflessness. May each one of us prepare this garment and keep it in readiness for our Lord.

- Radio Sai Team

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