Numerous legends in India are well-known in some parts of India but are mostly unknown in others. One such story is of Shiva bhakt Kannappa. Although the story of Kannappa is common knowledge in Southern India, few people outside South India know about this legend. So, let me narrate this lesser-known legend of Kannappa – a great Shiva bhakt.
The History of Kannappa
The story of Kannappa is narrated in the Shiv Purana. We all know Arjun from Mahabharat and how he was one of the greatest warriors of India. Arjun meditated to win Pashupatastra (a weapon of Shivji) from Lord Shiva. Shiva took the form of an animal hunter to test Arjun. Both Arjun and Shiva took aim at a demon named Mooka. Mooka was killed, but a battle started between Arun and Shiva. Shiva was impressed by the skills shown by Arjun, and hence, he gave him Pashupatastra.
However, with great skill comes great pride. As a result of Arjun’s immense pride, he was destined to be born again in Kaliyug and pray to God to achieve moksha. Arjun was born as a hunter called Kannappa in his next birth. Kannappa was born in the hunter (vyadha) family to Raja Naga Vyadha and his wife Uduppura in Utukkuru, Andhra Pradesh. His father was a great hunter and a Shiv bhakt.
Kannappa found a Shiv-linga – a Vayu linga in the forest where he was hunting. Being a simple hunter, he did not know how to worship Shivji in a Vedic way. So he did what he thought was right. He hunted an animal, cooked its meat, and offered it as a prasad to Lord Shiva. He collected some flowers from the forest to offer Shivji. Kannappa filled his mouth with water and offered it to Shivji to worship him.
A sage saw that someone had offered meat to Shivji. He was deeply disturbed. But Kannappa continued his devotion without being affected. Then, to test his devotion, Shivji created tremors on the temple. The old building began shanking, and the roof started to disintegrate. All the sages ran away from the building to protect themselves, but Kannappa stayed to protect the Shiv-linga. He covered the Shiv-linga with his body to protect it. This earned him the name ‘Dheer’ – the immovable.
To put him to one more test, one of the eyes of the Shiv-linga started bleeding. Not knowing what to do, Dheera plucked his own eye and offered it to the linga. As soon as he attached one eye, the other one started oozing blood. So, Kannappa decided to pluck his other eye to offer it to the Lord. However, he realized that if he plucked his other eye, he would become blind and not see where to place his eye. So, he put his toe on the spot of Shiv-linga’s eye to mark it. He then started plucking his other eye. Satisfied with the devotion of Kannappa, Shivji appeared before him and blessed him with moksha. Hence, Kannappa or Arjuna achieved liberation.
Kannappa is the 10th of 63 Nayanars. He is still remembered as Kannappan or Kannappa Nayanar. The Kalahasti temple located in Andhra Pradesh is a homage to the great Shiv bhakt.
Lessons From the Life of Kannappa
So, what can we mortals learn from the life and moksha of Kannappa?
- Ahamkara, or ego, is our worst enemy. If Arjuna did not have an ego, he would have achieved moksha long before, and he would not have been born in kaliyug.
- There is no right or wrong way to worship God. Kannappa spit water on Shiv linga to offer water, he offered meat to God, and he marked the eye of Shiv-linga with his toes. He did all these with a pure heart, and hence, Shivji granted him moksha.
- Your caste, tribe, or work doesn’t define you. The purity of your devotion to God defines you. Bhakti defines you. Pure bhakti can lead you towards moksha.