Sri Sridhara Ayyaval was a great Shiva bhakta who hailed from Karnataka but eventually moved to Tiruvisainallur in Tamil Nadu. He placed great importance on Nama sankirtan (chanting the Lord’s names) and exhorted people to chant the Holy Names of God.
There is an interesting incident that happened in the life of Sri Sridhara Ayyaval.
It was the day of sraardha (annual death rites for ancestors). Sridhara Ayyaval had finished cooking the food for the ceremony, when he overheard a poor”low-caste” couple talking outside. The woman was pregnant and extremely hungry. Having smelled the aroma of the fresh food cooked by Sridhara Ayyaval, she wished she could have some of it. When Sridhara Ayyaval heard this, his heart melted and immediately he went outside and offered the food to the hungry pregnant lady, for he saw the Lord in her too.
Sridhara Ayyaval then returned home, cleaned the place, and cooked fresh food for the priests. However the priests were not happy and refused to accept the food. They all walked out of the house and proclaimed Sridhara Ayyaval as an outcaste. Sridhara Ayyaval accepted this too as the divine will of Lord and continued the ceremony without the help of the priests. The Trinity – Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma – themselves appeared at the home of Sri Sridhara Ayyaval and partook of his food.
The following year Sri Sridhara Ayyaval once again requested the priests to participate in the ceremony. But they refused. Sridhara Ayyaval pleaded with them and said that he would carry out any atonement that they prescribed for the sin. The priests said, “Take a dip in the Holy Ganga. That is the only atonement for this terrible sin.”
Sridhara Ayyaval replied, “The Holy Ganga is up in the north and I am already old. I do not think I can travel that far. Instead, I shall bring the Holy Ganga to me in the well here my backyard.”
Hearing this, the priests said, “How preposterous of you to speak so! You are exaggerating, just as you exaggerate the glory of Divine Names!”
Sridhara Ayyaval humbly prayed to Ganga by composing eight verses of Gangashtakam. And lo! The holy Ganga gushed out of the well in the backyard of Sridhara Ayyaval’s home and began to flood the streets. The priests were terrified to witness this miracle. They ran and fell at Sridhara Ayyaval’s feet and begged his pardon. Sridhara Ayyaval then prayed to Mother Ganga to stay in his well in the backyard of his home for ever. Mother Ganga paid heed to his prayer and subsided into the well.
This incident occurred on the new moon day in the month of Kartika. On this day, every year, Mother Ganga actually comes, once again, to the same well. So, many pilgrims travel to Tiruvisainallur to take a dip in this well on this day, even today.