About a thousand years ago, Rajaraja Chola I was ruling what is now known as Tamil Nadu. He planned to build a grand temple for Lord Siva at his capital, Thanjavur. Thousands of labourers were engaged for this task.
In the same city, there was an old woman called Azhagi. She felt sad that while the whole city was engaged in the temple construction, she was too poor to do anything. As she was musing thus her grandson came running to her and asked her for some buttermilk to quench his thirst. This gave her an idea and she decided that she could distribute buttermilk among the labourers working in the hot sun. That could be her service to the Lord. Accordingly, she started distributing buttermilk to the thirsty people.
One day she asked the chief architect, “I have a small desire. Just in front of my house there lies a big stone belonging to me. Can you use that for the tower?” The chief architect inspected the stone and agreed. The stone was brought and the temple construction was completed.
That night the king had a dream. Lord Siva appeared to him and said, “I am very happy to be resting under the stone of Azhagi.”
The king made enquiries and he himself went to meet the lady. “You are blessed, mother. The Lord appeared in my dream and said that he was happy to be resting under your stone. What did you do?” he asked.
The lady said, “O King! I did nothing. I only served buttermilk to the labourers who were working there. I also asked them to use a stone that was lying near my hut to complete the tower.”
The king was dumbfounded at her devotion.
Rajaraja Chola I was a renowned king who ruled over the Chola kingdom of southern India between 985 and 1014 CE. He built the Brihadeeswarar temple dedicated to Shiva, one of the largest Hindu temples and a UNESCO world heritage site, in Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore), a city in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as Rajarajeswara temple.
Azhagi means ‘beautiful girl’ in Tamil language.