Lord Shiva & the Poor Old Lady
This is our first story on Lord Shiva from ‘Thiruvzhiyadal Purana’ (Divine Play) in which the Lord enacted a divine play to help his devotee Chemmana-Chelvi, the Granny.
I am sure that you will only be delighted with this story.
And remember many more stories like this will follow.
Shall we move on into the story….
Lord Shiva & the Poor Old Lady
The Lord, the King, and the City of Madurai
Once long ago, a king called Arimarthana Pandiya ruled over the Pandiya Kingdom in South India.
He was a wise and good king and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He ruled his kingdom ably with the assistance and advice of his good prime minister, Thiruvathavooran. Lord Shiva, with his consort Meenakshi was the presiding deity of the city of Madurai, the capital of the Pandiya Kingdom.
He was known as Lord Soma-Sundareswara in Madurai and he wished to enact one of his divine plays in the Pandiya Kindom.
The Divine Play
As a result of his divine play, the Vaigai river which adorned and cradled the city of Madurai, transformed into a big flood. The flash floods which came swirling and snarling at an unbelievable pace overran the river banks and entered the city. As if to assist the flood, there was a continuous and heavy downpour. The whole city was submerged in the rainy darkness. The houses and properties of the people, trees, and everything else were caught in the vice-like grip of the flood and people lost their bearings. The domesticated animals like goats and cows were carried away by the flood.
Because of the onslaught of the flood, the people suffered greatly, with no shelter and no roof over their heads.
The King and his subjects
Stricken with grief, where would the people go to complain about their sorrows? Is not the king, the guardian of the people? Hence, the people of Madurai ran to their king’s palace. Standing at the palace entrance, they wailed, “Oh King, we are in danger… Please do save us…”
King Arimarthana Pandiya heard the cries of his people and came running to the palace entrance. “Oh, King,.. The Vaigai river is overflowing. It is washing away all our houses and belongings. The rain too has joined hands with the flood to make our lives more miserable. You alone can save us, Oh King”, cried the people in unison. “Do not worry. I will make necessary arrangements to reconstruct the banks of the river, wherever the flood has found its way through.” the king reassured his people and asked them to return in peace.
The King’s Decision
Then he called his ministers, lieutenants, and other court officers together and held discussions with them.”The banks of the Vaigai are very long. Unless we heighten the banks immediately, There will be great damage. It is not possible to do this with the assistance of only a few pairs of hands. All the people of the city should come forward to help complete the building of the banks.” It was thus decided by the king at the end of the discussion. The number of families living in the city of Madurai was taken into account and each family was allotted a division of the long river bank.
The king also had it that each family should raise the portion of the bank allotted to it by pilling and packing soil on the river bank. The heralds went around the streets of the city announcing this information. Thus, each family has apportioned a part of the river bank. And the king ordered that each family should raise its part of the bank before the end of the day, failing which they would be liable for punishment. Accordingly, the people of Madurai gathered on the banks of the Vaigai. They brought with them spades, baskets, iron rods, ropes, and such accessories. Those who were weak and infirm had brought with them hired hands to help finish their portions of the bank.
They all started working at a fast pace. They dug up the earth from elevated areas in the vicinity, filled their baskets with it and carried it to the riverbank, and deposited it there, to raise the banks.
The Poor Old Lady
While efforts were on vigorously to raise the banks of the river, one small part of the bank alone remained untouched. The task of raising it was allotted to an old woman who lived all alone with no one to care for her. The old woman was known as Chemmanachelvi. She lived in a hut in the southeast part of Madurai. She had no kith and kin.
The Lord and the Old Lady
The infirm and humped old lady was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Not wishing to beg for alms and living off it, She earned her living making ‘pittu’ and selling it in the streets of Madurai.(‘Pittu’ is a delicacy made of steamed rice flour with jaggery and grated coconut added to it.) She had a lot of devotion and love for Lord Shiva. She always offered the first helping of the pittu that she cooked every morning, to Lord Shiva, and only then would she start selling it.
When she was allotted a division of the bank to be built, she was at a loss to know what to do. And therefore, weeping, she ran to the temple of Lord Shiva. Raising her hands up in entreaty, she prayed to the Lord.
“Lord,… Is this also one of your ways of testing me? I, an old woman, do not have any relative so to speak. I do not have the physical strength to build the bank myself. Nor do I have the resources to hire someone to do it,..and if I do not raise my part of the bank in time, the flood might gush through it, bringing down the whole stretch of the bank,… and the king would punish me… …O’ Lord, I have always treated you as my son and offered ‘Pittu’. You must save me from this difficult situation, in this my hour of need.” She cried out her heart to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva, who had been accepting with pleasure the pittu, that she offered lovingly every morning, smiled knowingly. The time had come for him to participate in the divine play. He decided to do this by helping the old lady who had showered love on him treating him as her near and dear one.
The Lord as Wage Earner
The Lord who showers his immense benevolence on the people of the earth, expecting no wages in return, took the form of a wages earner to help the woman who had no one to assist her.
The Lord whose complexion is fair, whose face radiates such brightness and whose beauty is such that it attracts the attention of all, wrapped an old cloth around his waist. With a need basket balanced on his head, he approached the old lady smilingly. A spade was slung over his shoulder. On nearing Chemmanachelvi, the old lady, he cried out loudly, “Does anyone want a hired hand?… Does anyone want a hired hand?
The Granny and the Young Man
The old lady who was full of worry and downcast brightened at the sound of these words. Humped down by age and infirmity, she looked up at the serene face that beamed at her.” young man,….? Will you work for wages?…..” she asked.“That is what I do for a living,” said the young man. “Young man,… I have been entrusted a part of the Vaigai bank to be repaired. But, I do not have the strength to do it,… nor do I have the money. Will you repair my portion of the bank for my sake?…” she asked appealingly.
The young man laughed, “Yes, grandma. I’II do it. But, what will you give me as wages? “he inquired her. “Young man,… I do not have the money to give you wages, but I shall make steaming hot pittu to satisfy your hunger and that will be your wages?” she replied. “All right, grandma… I shall accept your pittu as my wages. I am very hungry right now. If you give me some steaming hot pittu now, I shall eat it and set to repair your part of the bank,” said the Lord.
Chemmanachelvi was delighted. She ran to fetch the necessary things. Sitting under a tree on the banks of the river, she lighted the fire and speedily baked delicious pittu and served the divine young man affectionately.
Sitting in the shade of a Mahila tree, the young man ate the ‘Pittu’. When he had his fill, he said, “Okay mother. My hunger is satisfied. Now, I shall repair your allotted part of the river bank within seconds and then come back to you to get more ‘Pittu’ as the rest of the wages”.
The Young Man at Work
Saying this, he walked speedily towards the bank of the river Vaigai. Work was in full swing on the banks of the Vaigai. The young man went to the overseer who was supervising the bank construction work and registered his name saying that he had come to do the work on behalf of Chemmanachelvi. The young man then tightened his waistcloth and started work. But,…. the manner in which he conducted his work was strange and playful. He would dig up the soil and fill his basket with it. Then he would try lifting the basket. Then, saying that it was too heavy, he would drop the soil, fill the basket again with lesser soil and take it to the river bank where he would deposit it. Then he would go to sleep in the shade of the trees like one who had worked very hard. After dozing for some time, he would get up and eat some of the pittu he had brought with him. Then he would work for some time. In this manner, he worked, dallying, taking his own time.
The Young Man and the King’s Men
In the evening, the overseer came round, supervising the construction work. he noticed that only Chemmanachelvi’s portion had not been repaired. He realized that because of it, there was the great danger of the whole bank giving way under the impact of the flood and this made him furious.
“Where is the hired hand who is supposed to mend this part ?” he asked angrily. The soldiers pointed out to him the celestial young man who was sleeping in the shade of a tree, a little distance away.
“Drag him here “, ordered the overseer and the soldiers woke the Lord up from his sleep and brought him to the overseer.
“Hey, you are the hired hand appointed to close Chemmanachelvi’s portion. Am I right ? ” the overseer asked.
The Lord nodded with a beatific smile on his face.
“Then why have you been wasting your time, loitering and sleeping instead of finishing the work given to you ” he demanded.
The divine young man did not reply, but stood majestically and smiling serenely as if to say it was all his own divine play.
Seeing his guileless, innocent, divinely beautiful face and his erect posture, the overseer was afraid to punish him and reported the matter to the king.
The Furious King and the Young Man
When he heard the news, king Arimarthana Pandiya came rushing towards the spot. He too hesitated for a fraction of a second on seeing the heavenly beauty of the young man.
But, then, realizing how the whole repair work had suffered because of his playfulness and being reminded of the hardships encountered by his people, he became angry.
At the same time, learning about what had happened and worried about the outcome, Chemmanachelvi came rushing to the spot and stood transfixed.
“Hey, you hired a worker, what do you think of yourself? Because of your carelessness, the whole bank is now in a state of giving way. What do you have to say for yourself ? ” asked the king.
But, the divine worker just looked up at the king with a smile, uttering not a single word.
“What?.. .. Won’t you talk? Have you forgotten that I am the King of this land ? ” asked Arimarthana Pandiya angrily and instructed his servant to carry out the punishment.
The King’s Punishment
The servant who stood erect like a mountain beside the king bowed before the king, raised the whip in his hand and lashed the fair back of the divine young man.
At the same instant ……………
The lash fell …………….
……………. on the king,
……………. on all the people who were assembled there,
…………….. on all the living beings of the world,
…………….. on the Devas of the heavens and
…………….. on the Asuras of the nether world.
Unable to bear the impact of the lash, everyone shrieked in pain.
At the same moment,………….. The rain which had been lashing the city for many days stopped and the flood subsided in an instant.
The Lord and his Devotee
A heavenly chariot came down from the skies and landed near the old lady who had been watching everything that had happened there, with tears in her eyes. Overwhelmed with devotion, Chemmanachelvi boarded the chariot and it lifted into the skies and disappeared from sight.
Arimarthana Pandiya and the people who had been watching all these in a daze realized that it had been the Lord himself who was amongst them. They realized their folly and wept for forgiveness.
“Lord, please forgive us ” they lamented.
At that instant, Lord Shiva appeared in the skies in the midst of radiant clouds with his consort Umadevi.
“Arimarthana Pandiya,… I wished the whole world to know about Chemmanachelvi’s devotion and hence this divine play of mine ” said the Lord in a thundering voice and blessing them all, vanished.
The king and his people, overwhelmed on hearing the divine voice of God, praised his benevolence.