The Influence of Nandanar - Nantanar-Thirunaallaippovaar- AKA Tiru Nalai Povar Nayanar
Nandanar's influence was and remains limited primarily to the Tamil-speaking areas. The Christian missionary Rev. A. C. Clayton—who was "sympathetic" to the Dalit cause—used Nandanar's narrative (retold as The Legend of Nandan) to suggest that bhakti (devotion)—which saw no distinction of class or caste—was the superior means to salvation than the jnana-marga (salvation by knowledge) propagated by the Brahmins and also challenged the authority of the Brahmin orthodoxy.
Nandanar became "the hero of tales of caste protest". The "Adi Dravida" (Dalit) leaders of the Self-Respect Movement used Nandanar as an exemplar to prove that social superiority originates not from birth, but the qualities and deeds of people.
In 2010, Cadres of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) under the leadership of P. Samath, protested to bring down the wall on the South Gate of the Chimdabaram temple, which was—as per a tale—built as Nandanar entered from the gate.
The walled gate was the symbol of the oppression of the Dalit caste and caste discrimination, as per the protesters who demanded its demolition. The state government — which governs the temple currently — contented that the veracity of Nandanar's tale and its connection to the walled Gate, can not be ascertained and thus, refused the protesters' demands.
Nandanar "continues to inspire them (Dalits) as a symbol of resistance and a hope of a better future". However, young Dalits identify with recent Dalit leaders like B. R. Ambedkar and are unaware or uninterested in the "obedient Nandanar". Ambedkar, himself had dedicated his book The Untouchables, to three Dalit saints, including Nandanar.
In speech in Chidambaram, Mahatma Gandhi called Nandanar, a true practitioner of Satyagraha, a means of Nonviolent resistance. Gandhi said: "Nanda broke every barrier and won his way to freedom, not by brag, not by bluster, but by the purest form of self-suffering... he shamed them (his persecutors) into doing justice by his lofty prayer, by the purity of his character, ... he compelled God Himself to descend and made Him open the eyes of his persecutors".
Nandanar's tale is retold numerous times through folk tales, plays, literature and art forms like Villu Paatu and "musical discourses".
A number of Tamil films, all titled Nandanar, recall Nandanar's tale following Bharati's version. Besides a silent film in 1923, another silent film Nandanar, subtitled The Elevation of the Downtrodden, directed by P. K. Raja Sandow, in 1930. The first talkie film on Nandanar was made in 1931.
The 1935 film featured K. B. Sundarambal, who also performed on stage as the Nayanar numerous times. The 1942 film, starring Dandapani Desikar in the lead, courted controversy for its overly Brahmin overtones and was banned in Kolar Gold Fields after protests by Dalits, however the ban was lifted after Desikar met and personally apologized to the Dalits for being part of the climax, which featured the fire-purification.
Another film on Nandanar was released in 1943. Sundaram Balachander acted in the 1948 film. N. S. Krishnan presented the story as a "narrative art form", while A. Padmanabhan released a small booklet on the saint's life for children.
C. T. Indra says that Nandanar was made immortal in legend and remembered over the years "as a strategy of public management of anxiety. ... In the Essentialist way, Nandan's devotion was cited down the ages to play down the social inequities and play up his spiritual qualifications."