Kannappa Naayanaar–World’s 1st Eye Donor!

S Balakrishnan
Kannappa Naayanaar could be hailed as the world’s first eye donor; the recipient was none other than Lord Shiva Himself ! This is the story of a simple devotee attaining the status of a Saint worshipped to this day.
In the hills and jungles of Kalahasthi, there lived Thimman/Thinna, the son of a tribal chief. They were mainly hunters living in Uduppura (modern Vutukuru/Utukkuru) near Sri Kalahasti, Rajampet in Andhra Pradesh. One day, he chanced upon a Shivlinga in a remote part of the hills. Without his knowing he was attracted towards that image like an iron piece to a magnet. He offered some meat that he had with him readily. Later, as the priest came, he was shocked to see the shrine defiled with meat.  He imagined it was the act of some bird or animal. He cleaned the place, did the regular puja and left. When the priest visited the next time, he again found meat pieces near the Linga. He had no other go but to clean and do his routine puja. As this kept on continuing, he knew this was not by birds or animals but by humans. Unable to bear the repeated indignity done to the God, he prayed to Lord Shiva to stop this atrocious deed. A divine voice told him to hide and see the happenings that were to follow.
Very soon Thimman arrived; he cleaned the place and poured water that he was holding in his mouth on the Shivlinga so as to bathe it (abishek); he offered flowers that he had plucked and kept in his tuft of hair and then placed the fresh meat as offering. The priest was much disgusted but silently watched the happenings as ordered by the divine voice. Thimman suddenly noticed blood oozing out of one eye of the Lord. He tried his best to stop it with herbs but to no avail. Then he remembered the saying ‘flesh for flesh’ and plucked out one of his eyes with the arrow and placed it on the eye of Shivlinga. To his great joy the blood had stopped. Alas, the other eye started bleeding now. But Thimman knew the remedy, so he was not worried. But after plucking his second eye, how to identify Lord’s damaged eye and place his plucked eye right there correctly? Without any hesitation he placed his big toe on the second eye of the Lord and was about to pluck his other eye when Lord Shiva held Thimman’s hand and stopped him.
Thimman regained sight in the other eye and the priest realized it was pure love that counted more than rituals & mantras. Lord Shiva ordained that henceforth Thimman would be known as Kannappa Naayanaar (kann = ‘eye’ in Tamil, and Naayannars/Naayanmaars are great devotees of Lord Shiva who have attained the status of a Saint/Savant).  Kannappa Naayanaar is one among the 63 such sacred Naayanmaars whose images are invariably found in a row in Lord Shiva’s temples in Tamil Nadu. The 63 Naayanmaar festival of the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore of Chennai is a very famous annual festival held in March-April. It is said that Arjuna was reborn as Thimman in Kali Yug to get absolved of his boastful nature as the greatest archer of his time.
The other day when my wife ordered me to carry out the amavasya (new moon day) puja, I told her that I do not believe in rituals. She shot back, “Don’t compare yourself with Kannappan; you are a lazybone, not a true devotee.” Well, I have never won an argument with my wife !
I was lucky to spot an idol depicting this true devotion of Thimman; made of soft soapstone, I found this in a shop at the Meenakshi Shrine in Madurai. No second thoughts and no haggling; I pounced upon this rare piece immediately. In many Saivaite temples of Tamil Nadu one comes across this depiction in one or the other of the scores of pillars.
The period from Aug. 25 to Sept. 08 is observed as National Eye Donation Fortnight in India to create awareness about this noble cause. Donating eyes after death helps a corneal blind person see again through a surgical procedure known as corneal transplantation whereby the damaged cornea is replaced by a healthy cornea from the eye donor. The corneas should be removed preferably within an hour of death or within a maximum of 6-8 hours. Removal of the cornea does not cause any disfigurement. After the eyeball of the donor is removed, a transparent eye cap is placed in its place. Two different individuals benefit from a dead person’s donation. Though it is really difficult to think of eye donation at the time of sudden and tragic death of our close relatives, yet we ensured my father’s eye donation wish when he passed away. While around 2 lakh corneas are needed annually in India, only around 55,000 corneas are received through donation. I hope my pledge to donate eyes is also fulfilled. I will be watching the world even after death!    
[email protected] / 9840917608 Whatsapp