Bangaru Adigalar passed away a few days ago. He was deemed a godman. But that would be a lazy description, the kind that the media leans into.
How this ordinary teacher founded a cult of Adhiparasakthi and helmed a multi-crore rupees empire of religion and educational institutions in Tamil Nadu is a story mired in vagueness.
Even as a school teacher, he, a devout Devi follower, fancied himself as an oracle. But the humble origin story does not have specific details of this meteoric rise that saw 'Amma', which is how Adigalar was referred to by his devotees, lord over an entire temple town.
The Melmaruvathur town is now an important pitstop on the journey down south from Chennai. The big-city express trains that don't deign to stop at small towns now make a quick halt here and proceed.
How Adigalar — who forever remained media-shy and wasn't known to be an articulate person — pulled this off remains a fascinating yet unexplained tale.
To be sure, the Adhiparasakthi temple in Melmaruvathur gave women — the archetypal Sakthi — the pride of place. This was the temple's unique selling point.
In the mid-1990s, my first-ever assignment as a journalist was at Melvaruthur at a time when the Sakthi cult was climbing to the peak.
Hordes of devotees from across the state and beyond had started to arrive in chartered buses and vans for the darshan of the goddess and Amma.
A Bulwark Against Proselytisation
We, a bunch of journalists from Chennai, were taken to meet Amma. When we met him, he, clad in a white shirt and red veshti, hardly spoke.
He kept a smiling face, while a bunch of his hangers-on answered whatever questions we had.
It was an unprepossessing meet, and I left wondering what was special about him to be deemed a demigod.
With some time to kill before our departure, I would venture around for a bit in the small town, sustained by the commerce that the temple engendered.
It is then, while talking to a cross section of the people, that I could get a sense that the temple and the cult — which was not as forbidding as some of the mutts run by the Brahminical order appeared to be — was proving to be a bulwark against the proselytising forces that were forever lurking.
The Melmaruvathur Sakthi Peedam cult, with its all-red attire and easy access, gave a sense of belonging to the people that were vulnerable to conversion attempts. In that sense, Adigalar will forever remain an important cog in the wheel of Hinduism.
Today, the Adhiparasakthi empire comprises educational institutions (arts, engineering, and medical colleges and schools), hospitals, and companies.
There have been acrimonious feuds within the Adigalar family, with two of his sons not seeing eye to eye. There has been talk of a succession battle. There were income tax raids some years ago and several crores of rupees of unaccounted money came to light.
These things can't be shrugged away lightly, especially for an organisation that engages in altruistic religious and spiritual activities. Uncomfortable questions hover around the Adhiparasakthi empire.
It cannot be a coincidence that Adigalar's fame rose in parallel to the rising political fortunes of the Vanniyar community in the state.
Amma, who belonged to the community, and the cult became well-established around the same time as when Vanniyars were getting themselves organised as a strong political force in the state in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Adigalar's empire was posited as a non-Brahminical religious order. Hence, it held a special attraction for the Dravidian leaders. Their love for hating anything Brahminical was the only thing that drove them close to the Adigalar cult.
There was no inherent devotion towards or reverence of Hindu traditions or belief systems. Of course, there was the inevitable caste angle. With Vanniyars being the biggest caste group in the state, Adigalar was always sought out by the Dravidian leaders and their lackeys.
The Farce Of The Dravidian Cult
Look at the gushing words of homage from the Dravidian lot.
The Dravidar Kazhagam rump of the Dravidian group, whose very ideas are anti-god and anti-religion, putting out a condolence message for a person who considered himself 'god' looked odd and out of place.
But its leader, K Veeramani, inevitably said that the Adigalar cult rose despite the indirect 'Aryan' opposition. The use of the word 'Aryan' here is for euphemism purposes. It is a placeholder word for Brahminism.
Pray which Brahminical force was against the Adigalar cult? This is a one-track obsession of the Dravidian leaders.
Chief Minister M K Stalin, whose son Udhayanidhi Stalin is on a self-styled mission of annihilating Sanatana Dharma, personally went to Melmaruvathur to pay homage.
Who is to tell them that cults like Adhiparasakthi Peedam very much belong to the huge and eclectic ambit of Sanatana Dharma?
Someone else also likened Adigalar to a red-shirted E V Ramaswamy?
Is it fair to compare a self-styled Hindu religious leader with a person who strongly disdains Hindu deities (alone)? It is like inappropriately likening the Pope to a figure dressed in white robes, but with Mussolini's qualities.
It is sickening to see the Dravidian lot use the occasion of death of a religious leader to further wade into Brahminism. But they are only sucking out dignity from the sombre moment.
Death is a time for reflection, not an opportunity to harvest non-Brahminical points.
Parasakthi, the quintessential Goddess of Navratri, will be saddened by the charade.
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