One hunter who never learnt any holy scriptures and whose discipline was just to kill - hunt, who became an excellent example of devotion. Simple but unparallaled was his love. It may be difficult even for great scholars to put in words that love which even when one tries to visualise takes them to the peaks of the mountains of devotion.
Kannappa Nayanar or Kannappan was one of the 63 Nayanmars (Tamil Poet-Saints) or holy Saivite saints, the staunch devotees of Lord Shiva. The Periya Puranam (Lives of the Saints) compiled by Sekkizhar and also the Tiruthhthondar Thogai by the poet-saint Sundarar enlists the 63 Nayanars. The actual story of Kannappa Nayanar is supposed to have taken place at a Hill Temple in Sri Kalahasti, near Tirupathi, in present day state Andra Pradesh, India. Srikalahasti is also dedicated to the Rahu who is one among the nine grahams or celestial bodies in Indian Astrology. The bad effects of Rahu can be reduced a lot if visit Srikalahasti and offer prayers to Lord Shiva presiding there.
The story goes that there was a forest place called Uduppur. It was an isolated area populated by fierce villagers. Nagan and Tatthai had a great desire for a child but as they were old had to go to a shrine of Lord Murugan to receive his blessings before they were able to conceive. A son was soon born to them who they named Thinnan (meaning strong), because he was so powerful and heavy that even his father could hardly hold him up.
When the boy reached 16 years of age, he took over the position of leader of the hunters. During a pig hunt, Thinnan and some companions had to go deep into the forest. It was there that the youth saw the hill of Lord Siva. Kindled by an unexplainable emotion he went towards the hill.
The culmination of austerities he did in previous births came to him and he proceeded towards the Lord. He saw Him and drank through his eyes the wonderful sight; It flowed over his heart; He lost all control and ran towards the Lingam to embrace and kiss the Diety.
Thinnan started performing service by bringing water from the river Swarnamukhi in his mouth and bathing the image of the Lord by emptying the water he carried in his mouth onto the Lingam. He would chew meat to ascertain its suitability before offering the choicest bits to his deity.
One day, Lord Shiva tested the unshakable devotion of Thinnan. With his divine power, He created a tremor and the roof-tops of the temple began to fall. All the sages ran away from the scene except for Thinnan who covered the linga with his body to prevent it from any damage. Hence he was named thereafter as Dheeran.
When he left for hunting, a sage came who was shocked at the sight of strewn bones and flesh in front of the Lord. After prostrating many times the sage cleaned the altar and performed his own puja before returning to his hermitage.
This continued for many days. One day God explained the love of his huntsman devotee to his wife Parvati, "Don't think he is a scoundrel. His form is full of my love, his mind thinks of me only and his deeds are delightful for me. The water he spits on me is more sacred than Ganga, the flowers he offers taking from his head are holier than that are offered by Devas. It is all because of His love.”
It was the seventh day of Thinnans worship. When he arrived at the Lingam he was shocked to see that one eye of the Diety was bleeding. While worrying about his inability to find a solution, he remembered an old saying flesh for flesh. So, immediately Thinnan plucked out one of his own eyes with a sharp arrow and placed it onto the bleeding eye of the Lords. Thinnan jumped up and down in excitement when the bleeding from the Dietys eye stopped.
But as it stopped in the right eye, it started from the left. After a moment Thinnan told himself, "I know the medicine. I have one more eye. That should cure this".
But when he was about to pluck out his remaining eye, he realised the difficulty of placing the eye in position once he took out his remaining eye. So he held his foot on the Dietys eye as a mark, and raised the arrow to take his remaining eye out. The Lord Himself was not able to bear this great action, and appeared and holding the devotee's hands to stop him from plucking the remaining eye, called out:
"Oh halt Kann Appa, Kann Appa. Since you gave your own eyes for me, you will be called Kannappan (the person who gave eyes to the Lord) hereafter."
And with that contact the devotee's sight was fully restored and the Lord pleased with his devotion granted him eternal bliss.
Although a hunter and meat-eater, Kannappar had such great devotion to Siva that he offered him his eyes. And in Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 164, Sri Bhagavan gives the meaning of this story.
Kannappa, ripe in love, scooped out
And in the Lord's face planted his eyes.
But till he plucked and planted them
He too retained a trace of price
In those bright, beautiful orbs of his.
Attachment to the body dies
Hard, very hard indeed.
Why did the three-eyed Lord ordain
That Kanappa should pluck and plant
Those eyes of which he was so proud?
It was to save him from the death,
The deadly folly of deeming he
Was flesh inert. Such is the might
Some Saivite traditions believe that Kannappa was the reincarnation of the Pandava - Arjuna. Arjuna worshipped Siva for seeking the Pasupatha Astra (a divine weapon) and failed to recognize Shiva when He appeared before Arjuna in the form of a hunter. Thus, due to this reason, Arjuna had to be born as the hunter and adore the Lord before attaining final liberation. This belief is not adopted by all Hindus though.
Many many thanks to an “Anonymous friend” for providing this ACK scan.