This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
We have already seen that the peculiar form of service rendered to Siva by Ko-Chengan consisted in the building of temples to him. There are others who devoted themselves to rendering some kind of bodily service-gardening for Siva, sweeping Siva temples, providing garlands for Siva and various other sundry acts of service all of them rendered with absorbing devotion. These are the milder forms of service. Reference was made already to a more vigorous form of exhibition of this single-hearted devotion to Siva. To illustrate this and along with this various other items of devotion that went to make up the teachings of this school of bhakti, the story of an ignorant hunter whose secular name was Tinnan, is given below. He attained to the sacerdotal designation of Kannappa Nayanar, by which name alone he is generally known. He is referred to specifically by both Sambandar and Appar, and therefore he was anterior to both of them. In fact he is among the earliest of the Saiva devotees. Sankaracharya refers to him in the Sivananda Lahari.
Kannappa was the son of a hunter-chief by name Naga and his wife Tattai. He was born in a village Uduppur in what used to be known as Pottappinadu (south Nellore District). The parents were long childless, and got this boy as a result of service to Skanda rendered by making over to his temple numbers of ordinary fowls and pea-fowls. The boy was naturally brought up to be a hunter and was given the responsibilities of the chieftainship while yet a young man, as the father had grown too old. On one occasion he went along with others, his companions, on a boar hunt. One of these beasts was so powerful that it sprang out of the net, tearing it away in the act, and ran into the forests. Tinnan with two others Nana and Kada gave the animal the chase and overtook it after covering a great distance. Tinnan who was the frontmost and near enough to the animal drew out his sword and cut it in two. The other two came up and all of them were very hungry. They wanted to roast the flesh and eat it to satisfy their hunger; but water was a prime necessity. Nana said he knew there was water at some distance on the side of the hill. Carrying the beast they walked along towards the water, and came in sight of another hill in the distance. Tinnan made the suggestion they might proceed to that hill before they sat down to make a meal of the quarry, when Nana, his companion, made the casual remark that that hill contained the God ' Kudumittevar.' That was the seed of the hunter Tinnan's devotion. The three friends walked along carrying the boar till they reached the river flowing at the foot of the hill. Leaving one of them behind to make the fire and roast the pork, Tinnan and his friend Nanan went up the hill. At the sight of the linga, Tinnan was so attracted to the deity that he began to exhibit the extraordinary affection of a mother who had been separated from a child for a long time. Overpowered with affection then he began to conduct himself like one beside himself. It was some time before he noticed that somebody had washed the linga with water and put flowers on the top of it. Saying that somebody had done ill to have so treated the God, he learnt from his companion that a Brahman was in the habit of performing this kind of worship. On hearing this he thought that kind of worship must be acceptable to God. So he began to perform worship similarly according to his light. He made it his business thereafter daily to go up the hill carrying roast meat strung together on an arrow, a mouthful of water from the Ponmu-khari and a few flowers tucked on to his hair. On reaching the linga, he used to spit the water over it from his mouth, take the flowers from out of his hair and put it on the top of the linga, and place the roast meat chosen by taste before it, and thus perform his worship. This desecration, as the Brahman considered it, gave moral pain to him, and, in his extreme distress of mind, he appealed to Siva himself as to who brought about this desecration and why Siva should have suffered it. Siva appeared to him in a dream and pointed out to him that, hunter as Tinnan was, his devotion to Siva was so whole-hearted and hence was more pleasing to him than even that of those who had offered him excellent prayers with a mind prepared by the long study of the Vedas and vaidika-agamas. He directed the much distressed Brahman to remain in hiding and see for himself. When next the hunter appeared before the idol, blood was coming out of one of the eyes of the idol.
Tinnan fainted away at the sight of it, and, when he came back to himself, he took his bow and arrows and looked about for those that might have done this harm. Not finding anybody within sight of the idol he set about thinking as to how exactly he should cure it. Do what he might the blood still continued flowing. Then it struck him that the best way to cure such a disease was to put in flesh for flesh, that is, removing the rotten flesh and putting a fresh piece - a form of cure hunters know very well. He pulled out with an arrow his own right eye and put it in place of the right eye of Siva. He found that the Weeding stopped. He was so delighted with his performance that he danced in sheer joy. In order the better to exhibit his single-hearted devotion Siva made his other eye bleed. When Tinnan was about to pull out his other eye to substitute it for the bleeding one of Siva, Siva put forth his arms from the linga and took hold of his hands that were in the act of pulling out his other eye and cried out "eye friend eye" ("Kannappa, Kannappa") and this ejaculation of Siva gave him the name "Kannappa." The Brahman who was witness to all this was surprised and delighted at the intensity of devotion of the hunter, rude, unmethodical and uncanoni-cal as the form of devotion was. This is briefly the tale of Siva's miracle in respect of this particular devotee Kannappa.
The story of Kannappa has become so famous and hallowed by tradition that it is familiar to everybody not only in the Tamil country but in the Telugu. The simple-hearted devotion of the hunter, and Siva's special approval of it exhibited by the miracle regarding him, have struck the fancy of the people so much that one of the Telugu poets of the first rank, Srinatha by name, made it the theme of a poem called Haravilasam. The devotion of Kannappa has also become the model of austere penance to the Saivas of a somewhat later persuasion. I have given the story above as it is found detailed in the Periyapuranam of Sekki]ar who lived early in the twelfth century. As it is worked by the hagiologist, the story exhibits certain features which are worthy of special note. The object of the writer is here to bring into contrast the single-hearted but ill-considered and ill-formed performance of devotion to Siva such as the hunter's, with the performance of similar devotion by the cultured and pious Brahman performing his prayer according to recognised form. The moral is the victory of single-minded devotion however crude in form and even objectionable from the point of view of recognised usage. As a result of this the story makes a few points clear. The hunter gets into an ecstasy of devotion on hearing the name of Siva as a result of preparation in previous existences. At the sight of the linga, his affection for his God so overpowers him that he forgets himself, and in this self-forgetfulness nothing is shown except affection for the God and anxiety for his safe keeping. When at last the idea is brought home to him, that somebody else more respected of human beings and obviously more acceptable to Siva himself, had performed an act of devotion, the idea goes into him at once and without further consideration he makes up his mind to do so also according to his lights and in the manner familiar to him. This goes so far in its singleness that the height is reached when the rude man and the crude worshipper does not hesitate to pull out his eye to put it in place of what he thought the ailing one of Siva. It is immaterial whether all these were acts ascribable to the hunter historically. These were the ideas that underlay the notion of bhakti as it was understood in his time. These ideas almost in the same form are found scattered all through the work of Saiva hagiologists and required to be organised and put into form for sectarian purposes later on as we shall see.