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Thinnappan, as he was known before he realised God, belonged to the aboriginal tribal people of the hilly region of Kalahasti, who pursued hunting as profession. His background was not conducive to spiritual pursuit as his fellow men were simple folks who hunted and killed as a way of life. But, the ways of the Almighty are indeed mysterious for he became the chosen one for His grace. As was the custom among his tribe he succeeded his father at the age of 16 and set out on his ceremonial hunt with his folks, which proved to be the turning point in his life. As he neared the shrine atop the hill he was overcome with love of God and he learnt from his friend that a priest worshipped there. Making a mental note of the rituals the priest performed this simpleton started imitating them in his own way out of unconditional love, which shocked the priest. But the Lord interceded to make known Thinnappan's devotion to the world, said Sri S. Radhakrishnan in his discourse.
A spiritual aspirant will be curious to know how the spiritual transformation could have been wrought so fast in Thinnappan's case. Sekkhizhar does not mention it in the Periya Puranam but the Upamanyu Bhakti Vilasa offers interesting insight. According to this work, Arjuna was reborn as Thinnappan because he was instrumental in Drona extracting a heavy price from Ekalavya to keep his promise to Arjuna that none would outshine him in archery. Arjuna also looked down upon Ekalavya because he was a tribesman. Though he was Lord Krishna's friend and was taught the truth by Him because of his attitude he could get salvation only in his next birth.
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