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Candala Candalar

From: Parthasarati Dileepan (MFPD_at_UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Date: Sun Oct 22 1995 - 14:08:16 PDT

Sri Vaishnava lifestyle  -  2

After becoming a part of the "thoNdar kulam," clan of
devotees, what should be our attitude towards other
devotees?  Namaazhvaar gives us an answer in
Thiruvaay mozhi 3.7.9:

kualanthaangu saathigaL naalilum
  keezizinthu, etthanai
nalanthaa NnilaathasaN daaLasaN
  daaLarga Laakilum,
valanthaangu sakkarath thaNNal
  maNivaNNaR kaaLenRuL
kalanthaar, adiyaar thammadi
  yaarem madigaLE.

"We are servants to the servant of Candala among
Candalas, a caste with no merit and is lower than the
lowest of the four castes, if he is a devotee of our Lord
who bears the disc and of emerald hue complexion."

This was indeed a bold and revolutionary statement for
the time in which it was written.  Further, it was
accepted and given vEdic status, i.e. infallibility, by
generations of sri vaishnavaas starting from Sriman
Naadhamuni.  The first person known to have put this
into practice is Sri Ramanuja's guru, Sri Periya nambi.
He attended to the needs of the aging saint and fellow
pupil of Sri Alavandhaar, MaaRanEri nambi, a Candala
by birth, and performed the last rites after his death.  For
this he was ostracized and later accepted when his
daughter Aththuzhaay demanded justice by quoting
Azhvaar paasurams and Sri Ramanuja, by then the head
of the Sri Rangam mutt, intervened.

I am sure Sri Ramanuja drew inspiration from his guru
and Azhvaar paasurms for his social message.  But, I
would place Sri Periya nambi's service at a higher plane
than Sri Ramanuja's, much like the Mongoose that
placed the benevolence of the poor brahmin in
GurukshEthram above that of Yuthishtiran.

Going back to Namaazhvaar paasruams, let me try and
address a couple of possible criticisms.  Did aazhvaar
consider Candalas to be of no merit when he says,
"eththanai nalam thaan ilaatha Candala CandalarkaL
aagilum?" Absolutely not!  Azhvaar was addressing
those who have joined the "thoNdar kulam" and still
have inhibitions about mixing with the so called "low
caste" devotees.  The phrase in question is intended to
encourage them to cast away these feelings.  Further,
Azhvaar says Candala CandalarkaLaagilum, i.e. EVEN
IF they are Candala among Candalas."  From the
rhetorical nature of this phrase it is clear that it is not the
Azhvaar who thinks of Candala as having no merit.

Next, what if the"Candala Candalar" does not choose
"Chakkarath aNNal" (ChakrapaaNi) as the Lord?  Would
the aazhvaar condone social illtreatment of him?
Absolutely not!  We can view this paasuram not only as
a message to the upper caste devotees, but also a way
into social equality for the oppressed.  Since the Azhvar
is deeply spiritual, the solution he offers is a spiritual
one.  We may further conjecture that he will be equal in
tolerance or condemnation of those who reject Sri
Vaishnavam, without regard to their birth.  In any case,
since the Azhvaar does not consider Sri Vaishnavam to
be an exclusive club, there cannot be any criticism.

-- Dileepan