Long ago, there lived a gandharva by name Pushpadanta. Gandharvas were powerful magical beings, who could move in air and could even turn invisible to humans. Pushpadanta was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and was a great scholar and a poet. Because of his singing skills, Pushpadanta was appointed as the divine musician in the court of Lord Indra, the King of the Devas.
As a devotee of Lord Shiva, Pushpadanta loved worshiping Lord Shiva with plenty of different flowers.
Once as Pushpadanta was traveling around the world, he arrived at the kingdom of King Chitraratha. Pushpadanta was struck with the beauty of the kingdom. Slowly as he watched the kingdom he was stunned, the kingdom was surrounded by the most beautiful gardens and the flowers there was lovely to look at. He went to the palace of Chitraratha and was amazed to find the flowers even more beautiful there. When Pushpadanta saw the garden, he was unable to stop himself. He plucked as many flowers as possible...Pushpadanta felt bad that he was stealing flowers, but he could not help himself when he saw the flowers.
King Chitraratha to whom the gardens belonged, was also a devotee of Lord Shiva. He had developed this garden to pluck the flowers and use them for worshiping Lord Shiva daily.
However that day when he came to the gardens to worship Lord Shiva, he stared blankly as he saw most of the flowers gone. King Chitraratha called his guards, 'What...What happened to the flowers?'
The guards looked nervously at each other and then at the king, 'Sir! We do not know...We did not take it...We were doing the rounds of the palace. When we came...' The guard shook his head, 'the flowers were missing, your majesty!'
King Chitraratha looked at the guards and realized that they were telling the truth. He frowned as he plucked the pitifully few flowers from the tree. He finished his prayers that day and the next day appointed more guards to guard his gardens...
However much to his surprise, he looked at the shame faced guards the next day and saw most of the flowers missing today too! King Chitraratha fumed. After his prayers, he thought for some time.
He looked at the gardens and saw around saw all the other trees. He angrily called his guards, 'Guard! Get those leaves and bring them here...' He said pointing at the bilpatra plants.
The guards gathered the leaves and brought them before the king. 'Spread them around the trees having the flowers....This way...When anyone walks over them, the leaves will rustle...you live hear the noise and be able to catch the thief...' The king barked.
The guards nodded and spread the leaves around the trees.
The next day, Pushpadanta came inside the garden by becoming invisible. As he was walking towards the trees, he unknowingly stepped on the bilpatra leaves....
Up in Kailash, Lord Shiva was disturbed from his meditation. The bilpatra leaves were used to worship Lord Shiva and they were his favourite leaves. Lord Shiva frowned as he realized that someone had stepped on the leaves...Lord Shiva closed his eyes and used the powers to find out who had stepped on the bilpatra leaves. He opened his eyes as he realized that it was Pushpadanta. If it was a human who had committed this error, I would have forgiven him...but a gandharva...they are supposed to beings from heavens....they are supposed to know all this...' Lord Shiva was angry as he thought... That man does not deserve to be a gandharva...And he is stealing the flowers from another...He is doing all this because he is invisible...Fine! I will take away his powers of being invisible and his powers to fly...
Back on earth, Pushpadanta was going towards the trees, when the guards, who had the rustling of the leaves ran towards the sound to find a tall gandharva coming towards the trees and plucking the flowers without any fear! They attacked the gandharva.
Pushpadanta was so amazed that the humans could see him that he was not able to defend himself. The guards caught him and took him to their king. King Chitraratha put Pushpadanta in prison.
As Pushpadanta was in prison, Pushpadanta slowly realized why he had suddenly become visible...The bilpatra leaves...Pushpadanta knew that he was made Lord Shiva very angry....
Anxious to regain his powers, Pushpadanta composed a sloka in favour of Lord Shiva. The sloka was beautiful to listen to...When Lord Shiva heard the sloka he was so pleased and that readily forgave the gandharva. This sloka is called as the Mahimnastava. The sloka is full of beautiful thoughts and meanings.
After Lord Shiva forgave Pushpadanta, Pushpadanta got back his powers. Pushpadanta met the King Chitraratha and asked for the king's forgiveness. He promised that he would never steal again. The king was also amazed that the sloka composed by Pushpadanta and readily forgave him.
However the story of Pushpadanta does not end there. After composing the sloka, Pushpadanta grew very proud...He thought that he had written a sloka which was admired even by Lord Shiva.
He felt proud and boasted to everyone about how great his slokas were....Lord Shiva heard about this and came and talked him. 'Pushpadanta! Do you know my temples, always have a Nandi outside...Why don't you just go and peak inside Nandi's mouth?
Pushpadanta was wondering why the Lord was making such a weird request...He went and looked inside Nandi's mouth. Pushpadanta was taken aback to find that the entire sloka that he had composed was engraved in tiny letters in the teeth inside Nandi's mouth!
Flabbergasted he ran back to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva smiled and explained to him, 'You are not the author of anything, Pushpadanta...It is the Brahman, which flows through you....All of this was written long ago...You are an instrument of the sloka coming out...'
Pushpandanta realized that he had been wrong in being proud of his composition, when he could not call the sloka his own composition. Pushpadanta asked the forgiveness of Lord Shiva and went back home and wiser man!