Nandi was devoted to Lord Shiva. He would dutifully carry out Shiva’s instructions. Often, Shiva would use Nandi as his messenger.
Once Shiva called Nandi and said: “Go down to earth and give people this message from me: have oil bath every day and food once a month.”
Nandi nodded his head dutifully and left.
When he reached earth, people gathered in large numbers to greet Shiva’s messenger. They garlanded him and worshipped him by offering light from a lamp with wicks soaked in ghee (aarti). Nandi was thrilled.
“I’ve brought you an important message from Shiva,” said Nandi. He delivered the message and returned to Kailas, the abode of Shiva.
“Yes, Lord Shiva,” said Nandi, “I delivered your message.”
“What did you say?” asked Shiva.
“I repeated your very words — ‘Henceforth, you will all eat every day, and have oil bath once a month.’”
Even as he said these words, Nandi realized he had goofed. Shiva wanted people to have oil bath every day, not food. He wanted them to have food once a month.”
Crestfallen, Nandi stood before Shiva.
“To eat every day, people have to grow so much more food — and to grow more food they have to work so much harder. You better go back to earth and help them with their work by ploughing their land,” said Shiva.
Since that day, Nandi has been ploughing the land as Basava, the bull.
During the Sankranti festival, grateful farmers honour Basava by offering worship and giving him a holiday from work.
Retold from a folktale.