More than 2000 years ago, there lived in the ancient Tamil land a very great sage and scholar, Nakeerar by name. Even gods dreaded his erudition and learning; and his devotion for Lord Subrahmanya knew no bounds.
Nakeerar was a Brahmin poet-laureate of Pandia king of Madurai, in South India. Out of arrogance and haughtiness, this poet prevented a poor Brahmin poet from receiving gifts from the king. He even went to the extent of criticising adversely the verses composed by Lord Siva on behalf of the poor Brahmin. As a result of this, the Lord cursed the poet-laureate to suffer from leprosy. Realising the greatness of the Lord, the poet craved His pardon. Taking mercy on him, the Lord asked him to make a pilgrimage to Kailasa when his leprosy would be cured. Nakeerar started on his pilgrimage. On the way, at a place called Kalahasti, in South India, Nakeerar halted on the banks of a lake and sat down for dhyaanam under a huge banyan tree. During his meditation, he was disturbed by a curious incident. A leaf fell down, but fell half in water and half on land. The water-half became a fish and the land-half a bird. The fish tried to drag the bird, but the bird attempted to pull up the fish and fly away. A dry leaf initiated a war between two creatures which evolved out of itself. Nakeerar’s meditation was disturbed by this strange event.
Alas! There was harbouring here a big devil, a Brahmarakshasa, who had made it a vow to gather 1000 Siva Bhaktas, whose meditation would be disturbed in this way, and after the number 1000 would be completed to devour them altogether. That terrible monster came now and threw Nakeerar into a cave where he had already collected 999. Making thus 1000, he went to the wondrous lake to bathe; for even devils have certain good habits.
The 999 devotees of Siva, whose meditation having been thus disturbed, were captured by the devil and put in that cave, had been there for untold years fed sumptuously by the devil host; for, to preserve them stout till the hour would come, it was the devil’s lookout. They now cried and cursed the newcomer, Nakeerar, that he came to bring them all to miserable death in a few minutes to come. They held God to blame and God’s dear Nakeerar to blame! The sage Nakeerar knew the whole situation now; the devil was away from the cave still. Should his Kailasa Yatra thus end to be an after-death Yatra, and the will of his God of Madurai get frustrated by a devil? Should all the devotion of the 999 pious men, for a paltry cause of a moment’s disturbance by the machinations of a devil, end to be useless? It was, of course, all a trial, and a severe trial; and the Lord must certainly save them all. The moment of their wholesale destruction was however approaching.
Nakeerar gave his miserable comrades confidence, and began his inspired songs in praise of his dearest God — Lord Shanmukha — called Thirumurugaatruppadai. This famous literary piece of exquisite Tamil poetry is, even today, read with avidity by devotees. The songs pregnant with keen devotion and passionate adoration of the great qualities of the six-faced God moved all Heaven and moved deeply the divine heart of God Himself.
And behold: A wonder and a terror! Even as the devil set his foot in the cave, its dark sides shook with the powerful pulse of Lord Subrahmanya; and within it there rushed the awesome figure of the six-faced God, with His twelve hands of mighty fists holding His divine weapons; and He danced with the Devil tearing him to pieces. He released the 1000 devotees, the 999 blessing and praising the glory of Nakeerar, and all singing the infinite glory of the six-faced God.
The poem sung by Nakeerar glorifying the Lilas of Lord Skanda, known as thiru-murugaa-trruppadai, is an eloquent exhortation to suffering humanity to devote themselves to the worship of the Lord who dwells in the hearts of all.
Sivananda, Swami. Lord Shanmukha and His Worship. World Wide Web edition. India: Divine Life Society, 2000.