A priest in a small temple of a village on the banks of Cauvery, Varadakutty was known for his devotion to work and honesty. He got his main name presumably from the presiding deity Sri Varadaraja Perumal and the adjunct from his short physique. Well versed in the temple rituals and the mantras for traditional religious functions, he also served as a purohit to the villages around.
What made him very popular in the area was his ability in curing snake bites. The mantra for this was passed on for generations and he in turn learnt it from his father. It was a closely guarded family secret well kept. Countless number of times he had saved the people from the jaws of certain death. He would always be chanting the mantra to keep its potency at optimum level. He lived in a small house adjacent to the temple and he was always available for help.
The temple had also large tracts of lands and income was adequate to meet the expenses of trikala puja and the annual festivals. It was customary for the tillers of the temple lands to give fifty percent of the proceeds. The keys of the temple were with the priest and trustee.
The trustee of the temple was a local politician and rich man. He had annexed many areas of temple lands to his own. None dared to question him for he was a wicked man. Besides the grabbing, he forcibly took away the cultivation of the temple land from the traditional farmers of long years and gave them to his cronies for a consideration. These new men gave only a small portion of paddy despite the high yield all around.
When Varadakutty gently broached this subject of poor realization from the new farmers and depleting income of the temple, the trustee got annoyed and rebuked him.
“You are a temple priest. Your job is to take care of the temple rituals and is confined to the precincts of the temple. Why do you poke your nose in matters beyond your brief?”
“Not like that, ayya.I just wished to draw your attention to the default of farmers. Please do not get angry with me”Varadakutty pleaded.
“Did I assign you that work? Mind your business and leave these to me. I will be harsh with you if you ever raise this subject again” the trustee shouted angrily
The priest was hurt and sad at the disrespect shown to him by the trustee. When some regular devotees who visited the temple enquired why he was looking forlorn, he blurted out unwittingly about the incident and the insult heaped on him by the trustee for mere mention of the drop in the income of the temple.
This spread amongst the villagers and reached trustee’s ears. Perceiving a risk to his hold, he wished to nip in bud the attempt to defame him. A fortnight later the trustee removed some jewels that were adorning the god and goddess and hid them in the dark ventilator of priest’s kitchen.
When the loss of jewels was noticed by the priest he promptly informed the trustee of the loss. The panchayat members and the police were called.
The trustee informed “The keys of the temple are only with me and the priest. On the night the jewels were stolen I was away at the adjacent town. I have the highest regard for the priest and he does his job with devotion and love. I cannot dream of suspecting him but what bothers me is that only we two had access to the temple.”
This clinched the matter and when the jewels were traced in the priest’s house, everyone was aghast. None would believe at such a denouement.
The priest repeatedly hit his head with his hands and wailed inconsolably telling “I promise I am not aware how the jewels came to my house. I swear upon god whom I am serving day in day out my innocence. I have no clue why Lord Varadaraja is subjecting me to this ignominy.”
When the trustee remained glum and serious, the deferential policemen took away the priest to the lock up in adjacent village. The villagers inwardly empathized with the priest and suspected some foul play. They dared not open their mouths against the trustee surrounded as he was with muscular men armed with sticks.
The priest could not sleep the whole night and was constantly grumbling to his God as to why he was being put to such tribulations when he had been fully devoted to Him. Seeing his pitiable state, the compassionate policemen gave him a few plantain fruits urging him to eat. He thanked them but kept the fruits aside. Varadakutty must have dozed off to sleep tired as he was.
In the wee hours of the morning, he was rudely awakened by the noise and wail of people outside the police station. A young boy of sixteen was brought in a cart. He was blue in colour and foaming from the mouth.
The villagers said “Ayya, Our trustee’s son was bitten by a cobra when he was returning home after a late night show. We have brought the boy without loss of time. Please save him”
The priest without a second thought poured on himself a bucket of water and tore from his wet dhoti a strip of cloth even as he commenced chanting the mantra in great solemnity. Every few minutes, he tied an additional knot on the strip and continued the incantation. This went on for some time with the boy not responding causing concern among the onlookers.
Varadakutty’s face was grim and watching the boy all the time he continued to utter the mantra with greater fervour. It was only after some suspense laden few minutes; the boy opened his eyes and asked “Where am I? Why are you all crowding around me?”
Varadakutty got up relaxed from the tension and said “The boy will be fine. Give him a glass of hot milk” before returning to his cell.
It was then the trustee who was standing a little away out of embarrassment and guilt came to the cell and fell headlong at the feet of the priest. Crying inconsolably he said”Ayya, forgive this wretch for the grave injustice done to you.. It was all due to my greed and wickedness. You are innocent. In anger I had the jewels removed and placed them in your house. God has punished me immediately. Despite my evil act, you were large hearted in promptly saving my son’s life. I crave your pardon before all the villagers. The lands would be restored to the farmers and the temple. You have made me a new man”
Varadakutty looked up at the sky as he started towards his home ”Varadaraja, I am greatly indebted to you. You have saved me from ignominy. This hardship must have been for the sins in the previous births for I have committed none in this birth”
The ringing of the temple bell was heard from afar..