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In Tirunnidraoor (near modern-day Chennai), there lived a poor, devout Brahmin named Pusalar1. He adored Lord Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe, with all his heart. But for Pusalar, Shiva was not terrifying. In his heart, the Lord was a powerful yet serene soul, whose very presence shed a lustrous grace on all. Worshipping Shiva' was Pusalar's only real desire.

One day, an unusual fancy arose in his mind: he would erect a temple in honour of Lord Shiva. Pusalar was surprised. He could barely survive himself. How could someone like him execute such a grand enterprise? He wondered who or what had planted such an ambitious idea in his mind. "Maybe, the Lord Himself wanted me to do build a temple for Him!" thought Pusalar.

After contemplating the idea for some time, Pusalar decided to create a beautiful shrine ... in his heart. That was all he could afford, and it wouldn't cost anything! Pusalar took this mission seriously. Every morning, he got up early and, after meditating on His Lord and chanting His names, started working at the 'construction site.' In his mind's eye, he collected all the materials he needed: granite stones and wood, among others. He then dug a foundation that spanned an area of many acres. He then lowered massive granite beams that filled the deep pit. On this raised platform, Pusalar mounted pillars, carving them with sculpted depictions of the Lord's lilas [divine play]. Pusalar knew all the adventures of Lord Shiva, and therefore, particularly enjoyed embellishing the pillars. He also saved some of those stories for the gopuram, which he fashioned into a grand, towering edifice crowning the temple. As he imaginatively wrought the stories on each tier of the gopuram with ecstatic love, Pusalar became totally oblivious to the passing of time. Finally, he built a shrine room to install the beloved.

This labor of love took many years. He spared no expense during this manasa puja [mental worship], intent on offering the Lord the best and most lavish he could conceive. It didn't strike him as being a fool's errand at all. For Pusalar, this 'castle in the air' was more real than any earthly structure.

* * *

In the same kingdom, someone else was engaged in a similar task: King Rajasimha of the Pallava dynasty. The ruler of Kanchipuram had marshaled thousands of workers, masons, sculptors, artisans, painters, architects, priests and pundits to create what he imagined would be the pride of not only Kanchipuram but the joy of India as well: a temple dedicated to Maheshwara2, to be called Kailashnath3. He spared no effort or expense, scouring the length and breadth of the country for the best talent and resources. King Rajasimha personally oversaw the construction, which took many years. The finished product was a stately and awe-inspiring monument that attracted the attention of all in Kanchipuram and even the neighboring kingdoms. Rajasimha was pleased.

* * *

After he had built the shrine, Pusalar prayed fervently to Lord Shiva to fulfil his mission. As far as he was concerned, the temple was to be his Beloved's abode, no less. "If you please, my Lord,” Pusalar implored with great feeling, "kindly deign to sanctify this humble tribute with Your holy presence. It would fill my heart with unending joy and be the consummation of my life's striving."

* * *

King Rajasimha consulted the most eminent astrologers and priests about the most auspicious time for performing the prana pratishtha4 ceremony. After careful calculations, the experts declared a date and time to be the most propitious for performing the consecration. With this piece of information, the king began organizing a gala affair to mark the occasion.

The night before the consecration, King Rajasimha had a dream. Lord Shiva, the ash-adorned ascetic of the Himalayas appeared before the king in all his austere majesty. The very sight of Maheshwara thrilled Rajasimha to the core of his being. Lord Shiva spoke. "My child, I won't be able to grace the function at the temple you have built for me.” Rajasimha was shocked. What had he done to make the Lord withdraw His grace? As if in response, Lord Shiva said, "I have been invited to attend the consecration ceremony at a much bigger and grander temple built by Pusalar in this kingdom. I cannot refuse that invitation. Kindly postpone the consecration ceremony.” Lord Shiva then indicated the whereabouts of this temple.

When he awoke, the king couldn't believe what he had heard. There was a bigger temple than his in the kingdom? Perhaps, he had only been dreaming. But the darshan felt more real than the room he was lying in. He could still feel the lingering joy that Shiva's visitation had infused into his heart. Without further ado, he got up. Without anyone's notice, he mounted his steed and raced off to the place Lord Shiva had indicated in the dream.

When he reached Tirunnidraoor, Rajasimha inquired about Pusalar. The villagers pointed to an elderly man, clad in worn-out clothes and sitting with his eyes closed. Notwithstanding his dignified appearance, the king couldn't see how someone who looked like a beggar, could possible build a temple, let alone one grander than what he had built. He decided to ask Pusalar about the temple. "Excuse me, sir." Pusalar slowly opened his eyes. Touched by the aura of repose around Pusalar, Rajasimha asked politely, "I heard that you built a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva here. I have come to attend the consecration ceremony. Where is it?"

Pusalar was astounded! He hadn't told anyone about the heart-temple he had painstakingly built over many years. "Who told you about the temple?" In response to Pusalar's question, Rajasimha narrated the contents of his dream. When he heard it, Pusalar felt a great upsurge of joy in his heart. He realized that this was the Lord's way of showing him, his humble devotee and servant, that He had blessed him and fulfilled his mission. Tears of gratitude rolled down his cheeks.

Pusalar then explained to a surprised Rajasimha about the shrine he had built for Shiva over the years, and how it had been his life's mission to install the Lord in his heart. King Rajasimha realized why Lord Shiva had appeared in his dream: to show him what true love and devotion was, and to point out that the temple of the heart was more powerful than any other.

As Amma says, "Through temple worship, we must build a temple within ourselves. Then we will be able to see God everywhere, within and without." Om.

Footnotes:
1 Pusalar was one of 63 Nayanars or Nayanmars, a group of devotees famed for their great devotion to Lord Shiva.
2 'Lord of the Universe;' an epithet for Lord Shiva.
3 'Lord of Kailash,' the Himalayan abode of Lord Shiva.
4 Performed to infuse the idol with the prana or divine life-force, thus transmuting it into a living, breathing entity that can transmit peace and joy to devotees.

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