In Chidambaram, there once lived an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. He was a potter by caste and profession. He had the highest regard for the devotees of Lord Siva, too. He was ever eager to serve them. He was leading an ideal household life. He made beautiful begging bowls of clay and offered them free to the devotees of Lord Siva, with great joy.
Siva, in His aspect of Neelakanta was his sole refuge and prop. Hence, he was called Tiru Neelakanta Nayanar. He would always tell others how, for the protection of the world the Lord drank the virulent poison, and he would assure his friends that they who took refuge under His feet would be purged of all sins and would finally be taken to His Abode.
In spite of his virtuous qualities, once he fell a victim to lust. One day, he visited the house of a prostitute. When he returned home, his dutiful and pious wife understood this. This irritated her, though she did not show this and continued to serve him, as before. But, she had decided not to have any sexual relation with him. Nayanar could not understand the reason. One day, as he approached her with passion, she took an oath and said: ‘In the name of Neelakanta, I ask you: do not touch us.’ Though she only meant herself, she had used the word us. Since she took the Name of the Lord and since she had used the word us, Neelakanta Nayanar decided that from that day he would not touch any woman in the world. Such was his sincere devotion to the Lord. They continued to live together. They did not want to make a fuss over their own resolve. No one knew about it. Years rolled by and they had grown old.
Lord Siva wanted to reveal the greatness of His devotee and thus to immortalise his name. So, in the guise of a Siva Yogi (a Saivite mendicant) the Lord came to Tiru Neelakantar’s house. Neelakantar welcomed him and worshipped him. The Yogi gave him a begging bowl and said: ‘Oh noble soul, kindly keep this in your safe custody, till I come back for it. To me it is extremely precious. It has the wonderful property of purifying anything that comes into contact with it. So, please protect it with the greatest care.’ Then the Siva Yogi left the place and Neelakantar kept the bowl in a very safe place in the house.
After a long time, Lord Siva came to the house of Neelakantar, as the same Siva Yogi and asked for the bowl. The Lord Himself, by the power of His Maya, caused it to disappear from the house! Neelakantar searched for it, but could not find it. It was a mystery to him. He was ashamed of himself. Trembling with fear, he fell at the Yogi’s feet and said that he could not find it. At this, the Yogi got very angry and accused Neelakantar, calling him a thief and cheat. Neelakantar offered to replace the bowl with a costlier one; but the Yogi would not accept.
Again and again Neelakantar pleaded that he had not stolen the bowl and that by a divine mystery it was missing from the house. The Yogi demanded that if that was the truth, Neelakantar should say so on oath, holding his wife’s hand. When Nayanar, who had resolved, in the name of the Lord, not to touch anyone, declined this, the Yogi attributed this unwillingness to the fact that Neelakantar had in fact been guilty of theft. They went to the court. The Brahmins heard the case. They asked Neelakantar to promise, as desired by the Yogi. Neelakantar got into the tank, along with his wife; they had a stick in their hand, and each of them was holding one end of it. The Yogi objected to this and wanted that Neelakantar should actually hold his wife’s hand with his own. Neelakantar could not hide the secret relationship that existed between him and his wife any more, and so, related the whole story to the court.
After this narration, Neelakantar and his wife caught hold of the two ends of the stick and took a dip in the tank. A miracle happened. As they emerged from the water, they shone with youth and beauty. The Siva Yogi disappeared from their midst and Lord Siva and Mother Parvathy appeared in the sky, blessing all of them. The Lord said: ‘Due to the merit of having lived a life of self-control and devotion, you will live in My Eternal Abode, forever youthful.’ The Lord thus revealed the glory of supreme devotion to Him (which alone made it possible for Neelakantar to refrain from lustful thoughts or actions, after his wife had sworn in the Name of the Lord) and a life of celibacy which bestows eternal youthfulness on you, and the unostentatiousness of a saint’s virtue.
~ Swami Sivananda